Alatas backs review of UN rights charter

FOREIGN Minister Ali Alatas yesterday gave tacit support to a proposal by Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad to review the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.

“I have an open mind on this,” he said at a talk organised by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondent’s Club here.

“We can improve on the charter by adding to it without touching existing instruments,” he said.

He was reponding to a question on whether he backed Dr Mahathir’s call during the Asean Foreign Minister’s meeting in Kuala Lumpur in July to review the charter.

The Malaysian leader had said that it contained provisions which were antiquated.

The United States and Europe opposed this as they viewed it as an attempt to dilute the human-rights declaration, but China, the Philippines and Indonesia supported Malaysia’s proposal.

In his first public comments on the matter, Mr Alatas said that he was surprised at the US response, given that reviewing UN documents was “not an extraordinary thing”.

He said: “We cannot canonise it and regard it as untouchable. All documents have time frames and we have to keep up with the changed circumstances as we approach the end of the 20th century.”

The UN Charter on Human Rights was first drafted in 1948.

Mr Alatas noted that Malaysia’s call and the backing from some Asian countries should not be seen as a polarisation of views on human rights.

“We do not have an Asian set of human rights,” he stressed.

But what was important for Asian nations, he said, was to give equal weightage to the different categories of human rights contained in the charter – political, social and economic.

“Please give the same kind of importance to each category. That is what we want,” he said.

Turning to ties with the US, Mr Alatas said they were “multi-dimensional.

“We should not look at it as a one-dimensional relationship because there is mutual advantage for both sides in many areas,” he said, adding that Jakarta’s cancellation of the planned purchase of US-made F-16s would not damage bilateral ties.

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Stanley Roth, who was on a two-day visit here, echoed the same sentiments.

“We have many common interests,” he told reporters at a press conference yesterday, citing Indonesia’s efforts to resolve the Cambodian problem and its support on the North Korean nuclear issue.

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