Li-ann Thio


Human rights have not figured prominently on the agenda of the

nine-member Association for Southeast Asian States (ASEAN) since its

inception in 1967. Rather, the pursuit of regional security and cooperative

measures for promoting trade and economic development have been

paramount ASEAN objectives. By" insisting on a strict separation between

human rights policy and trade issues, ASEAN has marginalized human

rights and has consistently opposed the use by foreign states or

international organizations of economic or other forms of pressure to

induce change in human rights practices. ASEAN member states display

an antipathy towards critical scrutiny of their human rights records-for

example, in reports from the United States Department of State or

nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Amnesty International and

Human Rights Watch. ASEAN's general response has been that this

constitutes foreign intervention in domestic matters, which undermines

state sovereignty and violates -the sacred principle of nonintervention in

internal affairs. Within the context of ASEAN itself, an emphasis on

harmony, compromise and consensus in ordering interstate relations helps

to preserve a fraternal silence with respect to the human rights violations of

member states. ASEAN policy (or lack thereof) towards human rights has

been one of reticence and nonengagement.