Asean charter comes into force

December 15th, 2008 - 5:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Jakarta, Dec 15 (DPA) South-East Asian foreign ministers Monday formalized a charter that transforms the 41-year-old bloc of half a billion people into a a more compact community.The charter sets out rules of membership, transforms the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) into a legal entity and proposes a single free trade area by 2015.

“Today, the Asean Charter officially entered into force,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told the meeting at the Asean secretariat in Jakarta. “This is a momentous development at a time when Asean is consolidating, integrating and transforming itself into a community.”

South-East Asia, he said, was no longer the bitterly divided, war-torn region that it was in the 1960s and the 1970s. The charter would take the region to the highest possible level of political, economic and social cultural dynamism, he said.

The charter’s enforcement gives ASEAN the legal and institutional framework to function as a body with its own set of rules. It is designed to make the region more competitive, as it can now negotiate with other countries and regional groupings as a bloc.

Thai Information and Technology Minister Mun Pattanothai, who currently holds the chairmanship of ASEAN, welcomed the entry into force of the landmark document, saying that “from a loose association of countries in the past, Asean is now a legal entity that aspires to become an Asean community in the near future.”

Critics, however, say that the will do nothing to prevent human rights abuses by member states like Myanmar, as the there is no sanctions regime and a proposed human rights body is widely regarded as toothless.

The charter was supposed to be unveiled at a summit in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai later this month, but a heightening of Thailand’s three-year political crisis forced the event to be postponed.

It was then decided that the charter would come into force at a meeting of Asean foreign ministers Monday at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta.

Mun said Asean had tentatively agreed to hold the 14th summit before the end of February.

The Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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