Asean signs landmark constitution
Disagreements over Myanmar cast doubts on whether charter will be ratified.
Last Modified: 20 Nov 2007 10:15 GMT

The long-awaited charter aims to create a legal basis for Asean along the lines of the European Union [AFP]

The ten members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations have signed a charter intended to give the regional body a legal identity at their annual summit in Singapore.


The new Asean constitution commits members to promoting human rights and democracy and sets up an agency to monitor rights across the region.

It also formally lays down the rules for the association, four decades after it was initially founded.

But critics say the new rights agency will lack teeth and questions remain whether the charter will actually be ratified following disagreements over Myanmar's recent crackdown on anti-government protests.


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Late on Monday Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Philippine president, warned that the Philippine congress was unlikely to vote in favour of the charter unless Myanmar makes concrete steps toward democracy.


"The expectation of the Philippines is that if Myanmar signs the charter, it is committed to returning to the path of democracy and releasing Aung San Suu Kyi," Arroyo told Lt. Gen. Thein Sein, Myanmar's prime minister, during a one-on-one meeting in Singapore.


"Until the Philippine Congress sees that happen, it would have extreme difficulty in ratifying the… charter," she said.


On Tuesday as the summit got underway, Asean leaders called on Myanmar's military government to work towards democracy, open a "meaningful dialogue" with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and free her and all political prisoners.


It also condemned the Myanmar government's suppression of mass protests in September.


Democracy activists say Asean must do more
to put pressure on Myanmar [AFP]
However a planned address to Asean leaders by Ibrahim Gambari, the UN envoy to Myanmar, was cancelled abruptly after opposition from the Myanmar government.


Gambari was supposed to have addressed the East Asian summit on Wednesday about the progress he has made in recent meetings with Myanmar's ruling generals.


The invitation was extended by Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore's prime minister and current chairman of Asean, who said later: "It is a very difficult matter. It is a difficult problem for Myanmar."


He said Thein Sein, Myanmar's prime minister, had insisted during a dinner meeting that Gambari should only report to the UN, and not Asean or the East Asian summit.


Lee said that following Myanmar's objections, Asean leaders agreed to "respect Myanmar's wishes and make way for Myanmar to deal directly with the UN and the international community on its own".


He said, however, that most Asean leaders felt that Myanmar "could not go back or stay put" and that the UN plays a pivotal role in pushing the process of national reconciliation in Myanmar forward.


Diplomats said the objection to Gambari's address was not only from Myanmar but from other countries as well, notably Malaysia and Indonesia, who felt that it would amount to interference.


The 10-nation Asean grouping, which includes Myanmar, has a policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member states and has rejected calls for Myanmar's suspension.

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