- From: AAPNovember 18, 2012
SOUTH-EAST Asian leaders have endorsed a human rights declaration which they called a breakthrough for the region but critics said it fell well below global standards.
"It's a legacy for our children," Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters on Sunday after the signing ceremony.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and more than 60 rights groups called this month for the pact to be postponed amid concerns it undermined universal human rights standards by allowing loopholes for governments.
ASEAN's members have a wide range of political systems, from authoritarian regimes in Vietnam and Laos at one end of the spectrum to the freewheeling democracy of the Philippines at the other.
Campaigners also slammed the lack of transparency and the absence of consultation with civil society groups during the drafting of the text.
ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said the bloc's foreign ministers had made an amendment to the text on Saturday aimed at addressing those complaints.
The amended text affirmed ASEAN nations would "implement the declaration in accordance to the international human rights declarations and standards".
But the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said it was not enough to fix the "flawed" pact, which he said would justify crackdowns based on "national context" or on grounds of "public morality".
"Our worst fears in this process have now come to pass," Robertson said in a statement on Sunday.
"Rather than meeting international standards, this declaration lowers them by creating new loopholes and justifications that ASEAN member states can use to justify abusing the rights of their people."
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa urged observers not to jump to conclusions.
"It's an important benchmark for ASEAN to be kept honest in terms of its human rights obligations," Natalegawa told reporters.
Human rights has been a sensitive issue for some ASEAN members, with the grouping's policy of non-interference in members' internal affairs often preventing the issue from being discussed more thoroughly at annual meetings.