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Government giving up 'too early': Activists

Sumber: THEJAKARTAPOST.COM | Tgl terbit: Rabu, 22 Juli 2009

Ary Hermawan ,  The Jakarta Post ,  Jakarta

The Indonesian government has been criticized for giving up too early on its struggle to create a powerful regional human rights body, by making a last-minute compromise to accommodate the interests of some ASEAN states, critics say.

The country finally endorsed Sunday the terms of reference of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, which it had earlier dismissed as "toothless" for lacking punitive powers. The draft says the commission will focus on the promotion, not protection, as Indonesia wanted, of human rights.

The Bangkok Post reported officials from other member countries had tried to lobby the Indonesian delegation to relax its stance before the about-face.

Todung Mulya Lubis, from the Indonesian NGO Imparsial, said the historic rights body - to be launched in October - would not lead to significant change in the region.

"As long as it doesn't include the idea of rights protection, we can't expect any improvement in human rights conditions in Southeast Asia," he said.

"Indonesia should have stayed with its position longer and not given up so early. ASEAN must change. It can no longer hold on to its old paradigms."

Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) coordinator Usman Hamid said what had been achieved by the ministers in Phuket was probably "the highest accomplishment" for ASEAN in the current situation.

But he reminded the government that it needed to ensure the initiated commission would not become mere window dressing for the bloc once dubbed a "dictators' club".

"I think Indonesia should be more patient in advocating human rights in the region," Usman said.

"I fear the commission will be used by ASEAN states as a means to avoid international inquiries into human rights cases in the region."

Bantarto Bandoro, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said he was surprised Indonesia had given up so easily and left what it had long fought for.

"I think what matters to Indonesia at this point is to have all member states accept the commission; it will then make progressive changes in the future," he said.

ASEAN leaders have defended themselves from criticism over the rights body's lack of power to punish, with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva saying, "It's better to make a start than leave this hanging with no purpose at all."



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