SEPT 8 — Civil society’s anticipation of the 28th and 29th Asean Summit in Laos has been met with disappointment at the continued lack of opportunity to voice human rights concerns and critically engage with Asean member states.
We recall the positive decision to formally receive our final statement which was adopted during the AMM 2015 in Malaysia.
We were hoping that this good modality would continue this year but it is not the case during this year’s chairmanship of Asean.
We must endeavor to find more ways to engage and not limit the possibilities.
“Despite being vocalized repeatedly, civil society’s concerns over Asean member states’ lack ofrecognition of civil society as a critical stakeholder seems to be falling on deaf ears. Even though Asean’s theme is to be people-centred, civil society yet again we are on the outside waiting for full integration as a full partner in Asean processes,” said Jerald Joseph of Pusat Komas, who was Co-Chair of ACSC/APF 2016.
Asean civil society remains extremely concerned about Asean’s prevailing silence and lack of attention and response to the observations and recommendations raised in all previous ACSC/APF CSO Statements, particularly on issues related to development justice; democratic processes, good governance, human rights and fundamental freedoms; peace and security; and discrimination and inequality.
This silence on the part of Asean member states shows a disregard for the progressive mandate of the Asean Charter, and a lack of true commitment to align actions with words and bring about the recognition of human rights through substantive engagement with civil society.
The lack of inclusion of civil society is particularly disappointing on the heels of an extremely successful Asean People’s Forum (ACSC/APF 2016), which took place in Dili, Timor-Leste, from 2nd -5th August 2016.
ACSC/APF 2016 was notable not only due to the solidarity shown by civil society in making the decision to hold the forum in Timor-Leste, which has been waiting long to become a member of Asean, but also because of the unprecedented commitment shown by government to engage with members of civil society.
Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Rui Maria de Araújo, made history as the first sitting South East Asia Head of State to not only attend the People’s Forum, but to also participate in an open dialogue with the audience, addressing issues ranging from the relationship between CSOs and government, to the government’s commitment to sustainable and ethical development.
During ACSC/APF 2016, the role of civil society in keeping the state accountable both to the people and its international obligations was emphasised by Asean Parliamentarians, as well as by Xanana Gusmão, Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment in Timor-Leste.
APF also raised criticism about the shrinking civil society spaces and use of draconian, amended and new legislations to increase regulation of civic spaces and the internet aimed at curtailing freedom of expression and information as well as freedom of assembly and association.
There is a call for member states to stop the harassment and attack of human rights defenders.
Unbridled development that gives scant regard for the environment and communities continue to grow and severely impacts Asean peoples dignity.
Such recognition of civil society, not as a threat, but as an important ally in ensuring the realisation of human rights for all Asean citizens, is critical to the development of a sustainable Asean Community.
The civil society of Asean will continue its activism and solidarity grounded in principles of universal human rights, and will continue to call for greater and ongoing engagement with Asean member states.
In the ACSC/APF2016 CSO statement released pursuant to ACSC/APF 2016, civil society reaffirm its commitments to monitor and engage in the Asean processes towards a people-centric Asean as member states continue to aspire for political cohesiveness, economic integration, and in maintaining a socially responsible, people-oriented and rules-based Asean.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.