Activists rejected from ASEAN summit

Oct 23, 2009 (DVB), Five activists from various Southeast Asian countries chosen to represent civil society groups today at a regional summit in Thailand have been rejected, one of the delegates said.

The decision to block entry to civil society delegates was a "very worrying" sign in the run-up to the launch of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, said Burmese activist Khin Ohmar, who was among the five.

The other four were from Cambodia, Laos, Philippines and Singapore. Activists from Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia were allowed entry, but under a strict gagging order.

According to Khin Ohmar, who is exiled in Thailand, those three have now left the summit in protest against the lack of civil society exposure there.

"The two remaining are a representative from Vietnam, who was not permitted by his government to leave, and another one from Brunei, who was appointed by the country's government," she said.

Speaking to DVB on Wednesday, Khin Ohmar had warned that the Burmese government wanted somebody from inside Burma "who is not able to have an independent voice to speak on the key problems that the Burmese people are facing."

Instead of her, two police officials from the government's narcotics taskforce had been appointed to represent Burmese civil society at the summit.

She added that 10 human rights commissioners, chosen from each member state, are to be present in the ASEAN charter.

"But only two countries, Thailand and Indonesia, allowed freedom and transparency for the civil society groups to choose the commissioners," she said.

"For the rest of the countries, the commissioners were chosen by the governments. This is already a non-independent charter before it begins."

The Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjavija, was due to meet with the banned delegates today but, according to Khin Ohmar, "interference" by the Thai foreign ministry thwarted the meeting.

Critics of the new ASEAN human rights charter have accused it of lacking punitive powers, and being able to only 'promote' human rights amongst its member states.

Reporting by Nay Htoo

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