The proposal has however met with widespread scepticism because ASEAN (Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) has always refrained from interfering in the domestic affairs of its member states, which include a military dictatorship (Myanmar) and regimes (Vietnam) that have been accused of human rights violations.
What powers such a commission will exercise remains unclear, but ASEAN officials said the group had agreed to take into account the “special circumstances” of the ten members.
For experts such an organisation will not be very useful since it will have no independent authority to investigate member states and any action it might undertake is conditional on the unanimous agreement of member states.
Still “it is better to make a start than leave this hanging with no purpose at all," Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejiajiva said. “We want to establish a body that begins with the issue of promotion (of rights). Once that is put into place, there will be more teeth for the body in terms of protection.”
At the same meeting ASEAN members agreed to resist protectionism and boost economic growth in a region with a total population of 570 million people and an annual economic output of US$ 1.1 trillion.
The worldwide economic downturn has left ASEAN economies reeling. Foreign direct investment into the region fell 13 per cent last year to US$ 60.1 billion.
Export-dependent countries like Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are all facing a sharp decline in exports.
The group, along with China, Japan and South Korea which have been present as observers at ASEAN summits for some years, was working on making an emergency rice reserve a permanent fixture.
US Secretary of state Hillary Clinton is also scheduled to attend the summit to discuss terrorism, the North Korean nuclear issue and border disputes between ASEAN member states.