Tuesday, 29 January 2008

OPQ 21 January 2008: Myanmar

I am involved with a group called MARUAH Singapore, that is basically a group of people in Singapore who seek to, as our mission statement says, "inform and facilitate, from a Singaporean perspective, the establishment of an ASEAN human rights body".

This stems from the section of the ASEAN Charter that provides for the establishment of an ASEAN human rights body. We are the Singapore focal point for a regional group called the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, which is recognised as an entity associated with ASEAN in the ASEAN Charter.

So I was glad when Ms Irene Ng filed her PQ on the recent ASEAN Summit. What happened there, when Myanmar basically stymied all efforts to discuss the situation there, thereby thoroughly embarrassing Singapore as host and ASEAN chair and causing the ongoing reconciliation efforts to grind to a halt, was not acceptable.

When the Minister mentioned the work on the creation of the human rights body, I wanted to find out the Government's view on local civil society. This followed from Foreign Minister George Yeo's earlier comment in November welcoming the involvement of civil society in the work to implement the ASEAN Charter, as well as one of the purposes of the ASEAN Charter being to promote a people-oriented ASEAN. I believe that for the ASEAN Charter to be genuinely people-oriented, each government must canvass for, consider and incorporate the views of its own people.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Government does not quite agree, as can be seen from the Minister's answer to my question, that the way for civil society to participate is through the ASEAN Secretariat. That is a little disappointing, because surely the Singapore Government should at least engage and dialogue with Singapore civil society directly.

OPQ

ASEAN SUMMIT
(Assessment and update of major initiatives)

3. Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs for an assessment of the ASEAN Summit and an update of the major initiatives discussed and agreed upon, such as the ASEAN Charter.

The Second Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Raymond Lim Siang Keat) (for the Minister for Foreign Affairs): Mr Speaker, Sir, Ms Irene Ng has asked for an assessment of the recent ASEAN Summit in Singapore, which was held from 18-22 November. Overall, the Singapore Summit achieved its main outcomes. Although Myanmar was a major concern, it did not derail the proceedings. I will respond to the questions on Myanmar from Ms Ng later.

First and foremost, Leaders signed the milestone ASEAN Charter. This will transform ASEAN into a more effective and rules-based organisation. This in turn will change the way ASEAN is being perceived, both from within and without the region. However, to ensure that ASEAN realises its full potential as envisaged in the Charter, we need to bring it into force as soon as possible. Thus, ratification and implementation will be a key priority for the next phase of Singapore's Chairmanship as ASEAN Leaders have agreed to aim for ratification of the ASEAN Charter within a year. Singapore itself has already deposited its Instrument of Ratification on 7th January. In addition, as Chair, we will also work towards putting in place the new mechanisms of ASEAN, including dispute settlement mechanisms and start work on the terms of reference of the proposed ASEAN human rights body.

Second, Leaders endorsed a Blueprint on the ASEAN Economic Community. This will help ASEAN realise its goal of an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015 by setting out clear targets and timelines for the implementation of various activities. ASEAN will now begin working on implementing the Blueprint quickly, so that our 10 ASEAN economies can integrate into a single market and production base, capable of competing alongside regional powerhouses like India and China. Similar blueprints will also be established for the other two pillars of community building - the Political-Security and Socio-Cultural pillars.

Third, Leaders also addressed global issues of concern to the region, namely "Energy, Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development" and issued three significant Declarations. In particular, ASEAN has resolved to cooperate more closely on key environmental issues such as combating transboundary environmental pollution and sustainable forest management. In fact, with the global focus on climate change, the Singapore Summit has paved the way for sustained dialogue on this key issue and increased regional cooperation. At the subsequent UNFCCC meetings in Bali last month, for instance, ASEAN agreed to work on an ASEAN Climate Change Initiative, which will strengthen ASEAN's coordination and cooperation in addressing Climate Change.

Fourth, besides strengthening ASEAN internally, ASEAN also had productive Summit meetings with its Dialogue Partners like China, Japan, Korea, India and the EU. ASEAN celebrated the 10th Anniversary of ASEAN+3 relations by adopting an important Joint Statement and workplan on East Asia Cooperation. We also had good discussions with the EU on how to deepen our cooperation at the special ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit marking 30 years of relations. Finally, the 3rd East Asia Summit was a very substantive meeting, with the Leaders discussing the environment and climate change, as well as agreeing to deepen EAS cooperation in important areas like energy security, economics and natural disaster mitigation.

We now look forward to the second half of Singapore's ASEAN Chairmanship, which will culminate with the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, Post-Ministerial Conferences and the ASEAN Regional Forum that Singapore will host in July. We will continue to push ASEAN to implement important initiatives like the ASEAN Charter, strengthen cooperation in key areas like the environment and transborder challenges, as well as deepen external relations with its various partners.

Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong (Tampines): Several ASEAN members, including Philippines and some quarters of Indonesia, have indicated that they will stall the signing of the ASEAN Charter until Myanmar resolves its problem. Can I ask the Minister how confident he is that the ASEAN Charter can be ratified by the one-year timeframe?

Mr Raymond Lim Siang Keat: I think it is very important that we get this Charter ratified. And Singapore, at the Chair, will do all that we can to try to ensure that this is done.

Mr Siew Kum Hong: Sir, the Minister has mentioned that the process on drafting the terms of reference for the ASEAN human rights body will proceed. I would just like to ask the Minister how will this process incorporate the views of Singaporeans and Singapore's civil society, given that the ASEAN Charter aims to create a people-centred ASEAN?

Mr Raymond Lim Siang Keat: We already had civil society groups that had given views to ASEAN on the ASEAN Charter and the proposed human rights body. The way to do this is through the ASEAN Secretariat. The think-tank - the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies - has also done so. There is also a working group on ASEAN human rights mechanism co-chaired by Mr Marzuki Darusman and Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn.

2 comments:

Jo said...

hi, can you please kindly share this with the rest of the minister, this is how a "foreign talent" see Singapore!
http://www.bevaart.com/cultureshock/
thanks!

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