South-East Asian foreign ministers on Sunday agreed to set up a regional human rights commission, even as they noted that some members' coolness to the idea meant it would start off lacking the ability to investigate or monitor abuses by members.
The new commission would thus initially be tasked with raising awareness of human rights and engaging with civil society while seeking regional solutions to problems.
However, the panel would also be 'evolutionary' with plans to revisit and strengthen its makeup every five years.
"The draft terms of reference reflect the maximum consensus among ASEAN countries at this time," Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said after the new commission was broadly agreed to at a briefing with the foreign ministers of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phuket.
ASEAN includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, notorious for its human rights abuses.
Objections from Myanmar and other of ASEAN's less progressive members meant the commission would have to start life without the right to investigate and monitor reports of human rights abuses in member countries, sources said.
But Kasit stressed that the every five-year updates mean that powers can be added as members' stances change.
"It is a legal document that would provide an evolutionary framework for further measures for the promotion and protection of human rights," the Thai foreign minister said.
He added that Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win had agreed to the terms of the new commission.
Myanmar's poor human rights performance and its failure to introduce democratic reforms is a constant embarrassment for ASEAN, which Myanmar joined in 1997.
But under ASEAN's new charter, that went into effect Dec 15, 2008, all member states have acknowledged the importance of promoting human rights in the region.
The ASEAN ministers are expected to officially approve the terms of reference Monday and launch the ASEAN Inter-regional Commission on Human Rights in October at the 15th ASEAN Summit, also to be held on Phuket Island, 600 km south of Bangkok.