The Convention on Counter-Terrorism is being paraded about as one of the achievements of the 12th ASEAN Summit, held Jan. 12-15 in Cebu. The Arroyo government presents it as a big leap for Southeast Asia in what is described as a “global war” on terrorism. However, it is feared that the pact could only cause the curtailment of human rights on a regional scale.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The Convention on Counter-Terrorism is being paraded about as one of the achievements of the 12th ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit, held Jan. 12-15 in Cebu. It is being presented as a big leap for Southeast Asia in what is described as a “global war” on terrorism.
Expressing what is described as the ASEAN member states’ deep concern “over the grave danger posed by terrorism to innocent lives, infrastructure and the environment, regional and international peace and stability as well as to economic development,” the anti-terror accord – which is described as the first of its kind on a regional level – calls for the improvement of cooperation among member countries for the prevention of “terrorist” attacks, as well as fast intelligence sharing and relaying of terror warnings.
The anti-terror pact also calls on the ASEAN member states to curb the financing of “terrorist” organizations, and engage in counter-terrorism training.
“The ASEAN Convention on Counter-Terrorism advances our shared interests in terms of common security,” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told reporters in a press conference on Jan. 15 at the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) in Mandaue City. “It provides for the framework for regional cooperation to counter, prevent and suppress terrorism. The Philippines will benefit from the convention in terms of training, intelligence sharing and networking with ASEAN member countries.”
“Global terrorism has assumed new forms of virulence,” Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said in a statement that same day. “We will make sure that this community is more secure and resistant to the threat of terror.”
The president of an international lawyers’ group, however, has said that the ASEAN Convention on Counter-Terrorism is far from being something to be proud of. Edre Olalia, president of the International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), said the convention could cause the curtailment of civil and political rights, as well as other human rights, on a regional scale.
In a message received by Bulatlat, Edre Olalia – president of the International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) – pointed out that the term “terrorists or terrorist groups” is not defined anywhere in the pact.
“(This) opens real danger for subjective, arbitrary and dubious labeling, proscription and criminalization of individuals and organizations that are legitimate especially if viewed within the framework of the U.S. war of terror where ASEAN, most exemplified by the Philippines, falls into as an important component,” Olalia said. “It poses even greater restrictions on right to travel and freedom of movement, among others.”
Article II of the pact cites as “criminal acts of terrorism” offenses falling under the following treaties:
Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, signed at The Hague, The Netherlands on Dec. 16, 1970; Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation, concluded at Montreal on Sept. 23, 1971; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons, Including Diplomatic Agents, adopted in New York on Dec. 13, 1973; International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, adopted in New York on Dec. 17, 1979;
Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, adopted in Vienna on Oct. 26, 1979; Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation, done at Montreal on Feb. 24, 1988;
Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, done at Rome on March 10, 1988; Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf, done at Rome on March 10, 1988; International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, adopted in New York on Dec. 15, 1997; International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, adopted in New York on Dec. 9, 1999; International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, adopted in New York on April 13, 2005;
Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, done at Vienna on 8 July 2005; Protocol of 2005 to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, done at London on Oct. 14, 2005; and Protocol of 2005 to the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf, done at London on Oct. 14, 2005.
“Note (that) ‘offense’ is defined by an enumeration or reference to existing international instruments and (the Convention) resorted to (defining) ‘criminal acts of terrorism’ (instead of a clear and understandable definition with specificity as to its nature),” Olalia pointed out. “Note again that the term ‘offense’ does not cover what a ‘terrorist’ is.”
Likewise, Article IX (1) of the agreement provides that:
The Parties shall adopt such measures as may be necessary, including, where appropriate, national legislation, to ensure that offences covered in Article II of this Convention, especially when it is intended to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act, are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature.
“This situates in one categorical swoop the offences covered by the Convention as purely criminal/terrorist acts, totally and absolutely precluding any real possibility (or at least a debatable position) that some acts may be in pursuit of, inspired or motivated by one’s political beliefs,” Olalia said. “Consequently, it takes away the historical attitude and legal principle on the political offense doctrine (i.e. all acts – which covers what would otherwise generally be ‘common crimes’, in pursuit of one’s political beliefs are subsumed in one political offense of rebellion and cannot be mutated into several component crimes).”
The ASEAN Convention on Counter-Terrorism does attempt to assure that “human rights, fair treatment, the rule of law, and due process” are to be protected. Likewise, the principles enshrined in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia done at Bali on Feb. 24, 1976 are to be protected, the agreement further states.
Olalia, however, thinks this declaration is empty. “(This is) lip service esp. for governments in countries that are repressive like the Philippines, where rampant violations of human rights prevail, where equal protection of the law is an abstraction, where the rule of law is also used against the people’s interests and where due process is undermined by political partisan considerations, judicial inefficiency, corruption, institutionalized repression, etc.,” Olalia said.
The ASEAN Convention on Counter-Terrorism was signed by all the leaders of the 10 ASEAN member countries: the Philippines, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Brunei and Indonesia.
Formed in 1967, the ASEAN was established purportedly to accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in Southeast Asia.
The founding ASEAN member countries are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Brunei Darussalam joined on Jan. 8, 1984, Vietnam on July 28, 1995, Laos and Myanmar on July 23, 1997, and Cambodia on April 30, 1999. Bulatlat