Asean body on rights of women, children established
By James Kon in Hanoi

Asean's human rights protection, especially for women and children, received a boost yesterday following the official establishment of the Asean Commission on Promotion and Protection of Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) at the 16th Asean Summit at the National Convention Centre, in Hanoi, Vietnam.

The inaugural ceremony was held yesterday in front of senior representatives from Asean countries.

The establishment of the ACWC is another significant milestone in the evolution of Asean as it provides the concrete expression to the implementation of the purpose and principles of Asean as stipulated in the Charter, the Vientiane Action Programme 2004-2010, ASCC blueprint, the APSC blueprint and Asean commitment to strengthen regional cooperation on the promotion and protection of the rights of women and children.

Her Royal Highness Princess Hajah Masna, Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who is among the Asean Ministers responsible for Asean Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Council, was present to witness the inaugural ceremony.

The ACWC will serve as a bridge for the well-being, development, empowerment and participation of women and children in the Asean community building process. ASCC and Asean ministers responsible for social welfare and development (AMSWD) are confident that with the establishment and operation of the ACWC, Asean cooperation on the promotion and protection of the rights of women and children will continue to evolve and develop step by step.

The ACWC and the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) shall continue to discuss on the ultimate alignment between the ACWC and the AICHR. Meanwhile, the ACWC will collaborate with other relevant Asean sectoral bodies in order to deal with issues pertaining to women and children.

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, as the Asean Chair, in his welcoming remarks said, "The establishment of the ACWC represents the common will of the Asean leaders enshrined in the Vientiane Action Programme and the Roadmap for Asean Community for 2009-2015, which rests on the three pillars of political security, economics and socio-culture and the plan for narrowing the development gap.

"The foundation of the ACWC is one of the important measures to enhance social welfare, development, empowerment for and participation of women and children in building the Asean Community.

"The ACWC is now in operation with the mandate of realising the aspirations of Asean women and children thus translating into reality the objectives on women and children set out in the Charter, the Asean Community Building Roadmap and in other documents," he added.

Also present were Hj Mohammad Hj Abd Rahman, Brunei's Acting Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports representing the minister with Hajah Misnah binti Hj Bolhassan, Acting Director of Community Development.

Two prominent Bruneian women have been appointed as Brunei's Commissioners for the Asean commission on Promotion and Protection of Rights of Women and Children. They are Datin Hajah Adina binti Othman, former Director of Community Development, and Datin Paduka Intan binti Hj Md Kassim, former Director of the Anti Corruption Bureau.

Meanwhile, regional campaigners welcomed the creation of the body but said it could face the same limitations as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' human rights commission founded late last year, AFP reported.

They expressed concern about the independence of commissioners, and whether either body can actually protect the region's most vulnerable.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Rights Watch's Asia division, called the commission a step forward but said: "We're really going to have to watch very closely."

At a ceremony in Hanoi, Asean proclaimed that the commission on women's and children's rights marks a "turning point" for the region.

"These are the vulnerable half of the Asean community, the women and the children," the bloc's Secretary-General, Surin Pitsuwan, told reporters.

"So if we wish to become a compassionate community, a sharing and caring community... we have to take care of the women and the children."

Activists say they expect the new commission to examine issues including human trafficking, child labour, child soldiers, and gender discrimination. - Borneo Bulletin (8th April 2010)