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First International Conference on Human Rights in Southeast Asia: Will ASEAN Pass or Fail?

The First International Conference on Human Rights in Southeast Asia will be held on October 14 and 15, 2010 at the Royal River Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.

Dr. Sriprapha Petcharamesree, Thailand's Representative to the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) comments: "This conference on human rights in Southeast Asia is historic as it challenges the existing norms in Southeast Asia. And it does this by providing a platform to contribute to righting the wrongs."

Growing concerns about human rights in South East Asia will be the focus of this international conference. Though there has been much praise for establishing the new ASEAN commission on human rights, papers in the conference will address how the ASEAN states still fail to meet people's human rights.

The ASEAN's human rights body has attracted global attention and some early assessments. The conference papers will further develop the debate on ASEAN standards, with the participation of key ASEAN diplomats and commission members including Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN. Conference activities also cover some of the more controversial issues in human rights now, such as Human Rights and Sexuality, and the Thai government's recent crackdown on protesters in March-May 2010.

During the two-day activity, there will be panel discussions on women's rights, which includes a keynote by Ms. Shanti Diariam, former member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the rights of marginalized and vulnerable groups including children's rights and indigenous peoples' rights, terrorism, peace and security issues, the environment, freedom of media and freedom of religion, and democracy.

The conference is relevant given the recent developments in the SEA region. "Now that ASEAN is increasingly speaking of fostering people's participation and rights, I think this conference is extremely timely because it creates a venue for human rights activists and academics to learn from each other. It helps deepen a culture of respect and support for human rights in key quarters, among policy-makers and practitioners alike," said Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of the Asia Division of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Although human rights are ultimately a national issue and a government that respects human rights is but a product of historic national political struggles, it is critical that the discourse be elevated to bring on board SEA countries that are lagging behind in their obligation to realize human rights of their peoples. Says Dr. Azmi Sharom, Associate Professor of Law, Universiti Malaya, "As a collection of individual countries, the human rights experience in ASEAN has been as varied as the nations themselves: from serious breaches such as those in Myanmar, to huge leaps in progressive measures in Thailand and Indonesia, to the tepid neither here nor there indifference of Malaysia and Singapore. The development in human rights in ASEAN is diverse and embryonic. The need for discourse is thus absolutely vital."


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