Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Scot Marciel at the launch of the Human Rights Resource Center for ASEAN

His Excellency Patralis Akbar, Minister for Law and Human Rights; esteemed members of the Human Rights Resource Center for ASEAN Governing Board; esteemed representative Houmayoun Alizadeh; Professor Gumilar Somantri, Rector, University of Indonesia; and Ambassadors Clugston and Walker.

It is a great pleasure to be with you all today to celebrate the launch of the Human Rights Resource Center for ASEAN.  I am particularly pleased to be here because of my former role as U.S. Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs.

We see the launch of the Center as an important development for ASEAN, both in the area of human rights promotion and protection, and in the broader sense of civil society playing a more active role in policymaking in Southeast Asia.

Over the years and for various reasons, people in and beyond Southeast Asia have called on ASEAN and its member-states to make human rights more of a priority.  ASEAN took two important steps forward with the publication of its Charter:

First, the Charter noted as one of ASEAN’s purposes the strengthening of democracy, enhancement of good governance and the rule of law, and the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Second, the Charter called for the creation of the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.

These are important commitments and represent a recognition on the part of ASEAN member-states that in order to integrate effectively and stake a claim to centrality and relevance in the evolving Asia, the ASEAN region must not only be secure and economically vibrant, but also must strive for a political ideal based on maximum participation of the region’s peoples.

This is what we understand by ASEAN’s vision of a “people-oriented ASEAN Community”.  In pursuing this vision, the peoples of ASEAN will find a supporter and friend in the United States.  As President Obama has said, “America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal to all human beings.”

We welcome greater collaboration with ASEAN on human rights issues, and ASEAN’s Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights will soon undertake a mission to the United States, where delegates will have the opportunity to meet with U.S. policymakers and think-tanks and discuss issues related to rule of law, migration and trafficking, and protection of the rights of women and children.

For the Commission’s mandate to improve human rights promotion and protection in the ASEAN region to be successful, it will require the full attention and support of civil society.  In a people-oriented ASEAN, civil society would help shape the ASEAN agenda and would work hand-in-hand with member-states to help ASEAN meet its commitments.  This is where the Human Rights Resource Center for ASEAN comes in.

The Center is a grass-roots initiative led by some of the region’s most dedicated and knowledgeable human rights experts.  It has expressly stated its goal is to complement the work of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.  We sincerely hope that ASEAN and its member-governments will seize the opportunity to cooperate with the Center and its partner and affiliated institutions.

In doing so, ASEAN and the Center will find a ready network of supporters – from government, academia, and civil society – in the United States and elsewhere, as more and more countries realize that human rights, democracy, and rule of law are essential to development, prosperity, and fulfillment.

So once again I would like to congratulate the Human Rights Resource Center for ASEAN on what we hope is an auspicious launch.  We think it is only appropriate that the Center is launched and based in Indonesia, which itself has seen such a flowering of democracy and civil society participation in the past decade.

Indonesia’s upcoming ASEAN Chairmanship in 2011 is an important opportunity for both ASEAN and Indonesia to demonstrate leadership on a multitude of critical regional and global issues, including human rights.

We hope the coming year, with support from organizations like this Center we are launching today, offers ASEAN the opportunity to fulfill much of the promise it has demonstrated in the past year.

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