ASEAN new dispute rule to add pressure on Myanmar

The new ASEAN dispute settlement mechanism will increase the pressure for Myanmar to uphold its human rights commitment ahead of its upcoming election, says a commissioner for the grouping’s rights body.

Rafendi Djamin, Indonesian commissioner for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights, said the dispute settlement mechanism (DSM) was an option Jakarta could resort to when the military junta refused to hold an inclusive election, which includes the opposition party leader.

The dispute settlement mechanism, which will be signed by 10 ASEAN member states in its 16th ASEAN Summit in Vietnam this month, allows members disputing the implementation of the ASEAN Charter to take in a third party to help them solve differences.

The DSM, however, does not rule on sanctions for non-compliance members.

“There have been many negotiations concerning how we should implement the ASEAN Charter, including the establishment of its human rights body and the standard of rights enforcement as mentioned in the Charter,” Rafendi said.

“Members are forced into compromising their standard level because of the differences.

“But with the new DSM, we have more options to push countries, which block the way to move forward in rights enforcement, into obedience mode,” he said.      

Rafendi said the credibility of the result of Myanmar’s election could be challenged and taken to DSM level if members found that the junta did not commit to upholding human rights principles as enshrined in the ASEAN Charter.

The new poll regulations issued by the junta has denied a convict to take part in its first election in two decades — a movement observers said would prevent Myanmar opposition party leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running for office.

Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN secretary-general, said there was no certainty about whether Suu Kyi could participate in the election but added the grouping had been increasing efforts to ensure that the elections would be inclusive.

“The issues have been discussed in various forums in ASEAN but it will be interesting to see what the end result is,” said Surin on the sidelines of a symposium on regional conflict at the ASEAN Secretariat on Monday.

“The constitution and legislation are there but we do not have clear indication about how the issue will develop.”

The DSM allows four options to settle disputes arising from different interpretations of the ASEAN Charter implementation.

They are mediation, conciliation, good office and arbitrary measures.

Human rights enforcement is said to be the provision in the Charter that is most susceptible to disputes, considering the different levels of rights enforcement and democratization among the 10 members.

“There are many ways to intervene in ASEAN affairs,” said Jusuf Wanandi, board of director member of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, at the symposium. “But the question is how willing are we to undergo the intervention? Because mostly it is civil groups, and not so much the government, that is pushing for a reform in Myanmar.”

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