ASEAN diplomats have called the declaration a milestone in the region despite its imperfections, saying it will help cement democratic reforms in countries such as Myanmar, which until recently has been widely condemned for its human rights record.
Founded in 1967 as an anti-communist bloc in the Cold War era, ASEAN has taken feeble steps to address human rights concerns in the vast region of 600 million people. It adopted a charter in 2007 where it committed to uphold international law and human rights but retained a bedrock principle of not interfering in each other's internal affairs — a loophole that critics say helps member states commit abuses without consequence.
During the summit, the leaders are expected to announce the start of negotiations for an expanded free-trade area involving ASEAN member countries and six regional economic powerhouses that include China but excludes the United States, which is promoting a separate free-trade arrangement involving Asia-Pacific nations.
Associated Press writers Grant Peck and Sopheng Cheang contributed to this report from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.