Asean signs protocol on dispute resolution
By James Kon in Hanoi

His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, together with other Asean Foreign Ministers signed the Protocol to the Asean Charter on Dispute Settlement Mechanisms yesterday at the National Convention Centre that serves to complete the legal framework as laid down by the Asean Charter.

The adoption and signing of the protocol as well as the agreement on the privileges and immunities of Asean into a rule-based organisation will serve to facilitate the imple-mentation of the Charter and Asean Community building.

The protocol said efficient dispute settlement mechanisms would help the bloc prevent "festering conflicts and confrontation" among member states.

The protocol applies to disputes related to Asean's Charter or other Asean documents.

It provides for a variety of means to settle disagreements, including consultation between parties, mediation, and arbitration. Unresolved disputes can be referred to the Asean summit.

The foreign ministers welcomed the adoption and signing of the protocol, which underscores three common understanding. The foreign ministers reaffirmed the commitment to finalise three other instruments namely the rules for references to the Asean Summit and the rules of procedure for authorisation under international and domestic law, as well as the rules of procedure for requesting the Asean Secretariat to interpret the Charter, of which the first one shall become an integral part of the protocol.

With the signing, the Asean Foreign Ministers tasked Asean SOM officials to complete the drafting of the instruments as soon as possible and submit a process report at the 43rd AMM in July 2010.

The foreign ministers also agreed that the protocol would be subjected to the respective internal procedures of the member states after the adoption and inclusion of the rules for references to the Asean Summit in the protocol.

Prior to the signing ceremony, HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah along with other Asean Foreign Ministers attended the Asean Coordinating Council (ACC) to wrap up final preparations for the 16th Asean Summit.

Focused on economic issues for most of its existence, Asean in 2008 adopted a charter committing it to tighter links. The group aims to form by 2015 a community of 600 million people with economic, political and social ties.

While the charter sets out the basic principles of Asean, Thursday's protocol and other documents are needed to more clearly define how the vast community will function as a legal entity, AFP reported.

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo told reporters that the protocol "commits us politically to having a dispute settlement mechanism which will give our agreements concrete reality".

Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said he hoped the "rather comprehensive" document would enhance stability and security in the region.

But it will be up to the parties themselves whether to bring an issue for resolution, said Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.

"When all is said and done, the most important thing is the political will to use or not to use such a mechanism," he said.

Natalegawa said the protocol could not be used to deal with Myanmar, which has long been the bloc's most troublesome issue, because such mechanisms normally apply only between states.

"It won't apply to internal situations," he said.

Scarred by wars in the 1960s and 1970s, Southeast Asian nations have largely lived peacefully together for at least two decades, but smaller-scale conflicts persist.

Cambodia and Thailand have been locked in nationalist tensions and a troop standoff over a disputed temple on their border since July 2008. Soldiers have died on both sides.

There are also conflicting maritime sovereignty claims in the region, and other bilateral disagreements. - Borneo Bulletin (9th April 2010)