Regional human rights advocates today will open a three-day forum focused on pushing Asean leaders to treat human rights issues “as equally” as other topics that will be discussed during the Asean Summit beginning Monday.
“It’s very important that activists…gather together to make our voices heard to the Asean leaders about strengthening human rights and democracy,” said Kek Galabru, president of the local rights group Licadho and one of the key participants of the Asean People’s Forum 2002.
“We just want Asean leaders not to forget this issue and need them to help push the process. Demands for human rights cannot be ignored.”
Leaders from the 10 Asean countries, as well as China, Japan, South Korea and India will converge on Phnom Penh and are expected to have talks on issues ranging from tourism and trade to North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.
But grassroots activists say these high-level policy talks often overlook the very people they are meant to serve.
“Development is moving too fast without the participation of the people,” said Silaka Executive Director Thida Khus at the Southeast Asia Peoples’ Festival—another grassroots gathering timed to coincide with the Asean Summit.
On the top of the People’s Forum agenda is human rights abuses in Burma—one of several Asean countries that have been criticized by the international community for their human rights records.
Organizers said representatives from Burma, as well as Vietnam, Laos and Singapore will not attend the forum, which Kek Galabru said was meant to be a parallel summit to the Asean meeting.
Delegations continued to arrive Friday for next week’s summit, while Phnom Penh authorities continued tightening security for the largest international event to be held yet in post-war Cambodia.
An estimated 1,000 delegates are expected to be in the capital, while journalists—both local and international—could also number as many as 1,000 by the time the meeting gets underway, Ministry of Information officials said.
(Additional reporting by Seth Meixner)