Phnom Penh — The secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations admitted that the declaration on human rights that will be adopted by leaders of the 10 member-states today is “not perfect” amid strong opposition from the United Nations and civil society organizations to what they called a “flawed” document.

Surin Pitsuwan, however, stressed that the adoption of the declaration is a step in the right direction. “It is not a perfect document. It has its flaws. There are some human rights issues that the declaration may fail to address,” he said yesterday.

“We have to start somewhere. This document can be improved upon,” Surin said.

The landmark declaration will be signed during the opening of the 21st Asean Leaders’ Summit today.

The Philippines, in particular, gave inputs on the issue of rights of women and children for inclusion.

However, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay has called on Asean to delay the signing of the declaration.

Pillay said there was inadequate involvement of the public, including civil society groups, and that the draft fell short of universal values on human rights.

“I must say that I am surprised and disappointed that the draft declaration has not been made public and that civil society has not been consulted in the drafting of the document,” Pillay said.

Pillay cited as example the provision on the right to life, which she said should not be contingent on domestic laws that can be used to justify state-sponsored violence.

Critics of the declaration were especially concerned over the provisions on “public morality” and “national and regional particularity” which they say depart from fundamental human rights principles.

At least 60 non-governmental organizations have already written Asean to postpone today’s signing, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

In Phnom Penh, members of the Asean Grassroots Peoples’ Assembly complained of harassment to prevent them from opposing today’s signing.

Sar Mora, one of AGPA’s organizers, said at least five venues for civil society fora ahead of the Asean Summit have cancelled their reservations.

The regional declaration is one of the key mandates of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights created in 2009. –Joyce Pangco Panares, Manila Standard Today