Remembering my contemporary Tom Hayden of the Vietnam War Era

October 24, 2016

Remembering my contemporary Tom Hayden of the Vietnam War Era

by Robert D. McFadden

Tom Hayden, who burst out of the 1960s counterculture as a radical leader of America’s civil rights and antiwar movements, but rocked the boat more gently later in life with a progressive political agenda as an author and California state legislator, died on Sunday. He was 76.

His wife, Barbara Williams, confirmed the death to The Associated Press. Mr. Hayden had been suffering from heart problems and fell ill while attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.

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During the racial unrest and antiwar protests of the ’60s and early ’70s, Mr. Hayden was one of the nation’s most visible radicals. He was a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, a defendant in the Chicago Seven trial after riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and a peace activist who married Jane Fonda, went to Hanoi and escorted American prisoners of war home from Vietnam.

As a civil rights worker, he was beaten in Mississippi and jailed in Georgia. In his cell he began writing what became the Port Huron Statement, the political manifesto of S.D.S. and the New Left that envisioned an alliance of college and university students in a peaceful crusade to overcome what it called repressive government, corporate greed and racism. Its aim was to create a multiracial, egalitarian society.

Like his allies the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who were assassinated in 1968, Mr. Hayden opposed violent protests but backed militant demonstrations, like the occupation of Columbia University campus buildings by students and the burning of draft cards. He also helped plan protests that, as it happened, turned into clashes with the Chicago police outside the Democratic convention.


Tom Hayden after announcing he would run for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate from California in 1976. Credit Walter Zeboski/Associated Press

In 1974, with the Vietnam War in its final stages after American military involvement had all but ended, Mr. Hayden and Ms. Fonda, who were by then married, traveled across Vietnam, talking to people about their lives after years of war, and produced a documentary film, “Introduction to the Enemy.” Detractors labeled it Communist propaganda, but Nora Sayre, reviewing it for The New York Times, called it a “pensive and moving film.”

Later, with the war over and the idealisms of the ’60s fading, Mr. Hayden settled into a new life as a family man, writer and mainstream politician. In 1976 he ran for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate from California, declaring, “The radicalism of the 1960s is fast becoming the common sense of the 1970s.” He lost to the incumbent, Senator John V. Tunney.

But, focusing on state and local issues like solar energy and rent control, he won a seat in the California Legislature in Sacramento in 1982. He was an assemblyman for a decade and a state senator from 1993 to 2000, sponsoring bills on the environment, education, public safety and civil rights. He lost a Democratic primary for California governor in 1994, a race for mayor of Los Angeles in 1997 and a bid for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council in 2001.

He was often the target of protests by leftists who called him an outlaw hypocrite, and by Vietnamese refugees and American military veterans who called him a traitor. Conservative news media kept alive the memories of his radical days. In a memoir, “Reunion” (1988), he described himself as a “born-again Middle American” and expressed regret for “romanticizing the Vietnamese” and for allowing his antiwar zeal to turn into anti-Americanism.

“His soul-searching and explanations make fascinating reading,” The Boston Globe said, “but do not, he concedes, pacify critics on the left who accuse him of selling out to personal ambition or on the right ‘who tell me to go back to Russia.’ He says he doesn’t care.”

“I get re-elected,” Mr. Hayden told The Globe. “To me, that’s the bottom line. The issues persons like myself are working on are modern, workplace, neighborhood issues.”

Message to Donald J. Tump: Learn to accept defeat when the time comes

October 22, 2016

Message to Donald J. Tump: Learn to accept defeat when the time comes

Austin, Tex. — Richard M. Nixon, the first president to resign from office, was hardly a beacon of moral integrity. Nor was Nixon above demagogy on the campaign trail, infamously fanning the flames of Communist paranoia during the McCarthy era by unjustly painting his opponent in his 1950 Senate race, the California congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, as the “Pink Lady.”

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But the 37th president, as controversial as he was, offers a good example for Donald J. Trump on the importance of putting the country ahead of one’s ego and personal ambition on Election Day.

When Mr. Trump, amid his claims that the voting process is rigged, was asked in Wednesday’s debate if he would accept a losing result in the coming election, he responded by spitting in the face of American democracy. “I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense,” he said glibly, as though presaging a reality-show cliffhanger. The next day he told an audience in Ohio that he would accept the results of the election — “if I win.”

He would do well to look at the election of 1960, which pitted Nixon, the Republican presidential nominee and sitting vice president, against his Democratic rival, the Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy. The two candidates waged admirable campaigns, which included squaring off in four substantive, widely watched debates, culminating with the election on Nov. 8.

The outcome was a wafer-thin victory for Kennedy, who garnered 49.7 percent of the vote and 303 electoral votes, versus 49.5 percent and 219 votes for Nixon. Of the 68 million votes cast, only 119,000 swung the election for Kennedy, who had taken Illinois and Minnesota by the slimmest of margins.

But shortly after Nixon’s concession to Kennedy, which he offered in a gracious telegram to his opponent early on the morning of Nov. 9, reports of voting fraud in Illinois and Texas benefiting the Democratic ticket began to surface. In Chicago, in one instance, 121 votes were counted after only 43 people voted, and 6,138 ballots were cast in a Texas county with just 4,895 registered voters.

The Republican establishment challenged the results in the news media and in state-level demands for a recount. President Dwight D. Eisenhower even offered to help Nixon raise money to cover what could easily have been a monthslong fight. Over the following weeks the Republicans relentlessly pursued charges of voting irregularity in Illinois and 10 other states, betting that if they won there, they could force a nationwide recount.

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But in contrast to Mr. Trump’s rhetoric today, they tended to cast their efforts in patriotic terms; Eisenhower insisted that he merely wanted to show that the federal government “did not shirk its duty” when it came to questions about the electoral process. Unlike Mr. Trump, they started from a position of trust in the system, focusing their charges of specific malfeasance, rather than declaiming the election itself as “rigged.”

Nevertheless, Nixon, while agonized by his defeat and its dubious circumstances, opted not to join in.

At least publicly, he played the statesman; he subordinated his own ambitions for the sake of governmental continuity, ensuring that the country was not thrown off balance at a time when the United States was enmeshed in a Cold War with the Soviet Union. “I could think of no worse example for nations abroad,” he said, “than that of the United States wrangling over the results of our presidential elections, and even suggesting that the presidency itself could be stolen by thievery at the ballot box.” (And, of course, he hoped to have a long political career ahead of him; being seen as a sore loser wouldn’t further it.)

Whether Nixon privately encouraged the recount efforts is almost beside the point; unlike Mr. Trump, he understood that unless rock-solid evidence existed to the contrary, the country needed to have faith in the electoral process and the peaceful transition of power, and it needed to hear from the losing candidate that he did, too. (Some argue, however, that Nixon’s experience in 1960 drove his paranoid turn as president, leading directly to Watergate.)

The good of the country, Nixon averred, was more important than the fate of any one man. When Kennedy took office on a bitterly cold January day two and a half months after the election, he sounded a similar theme: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

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In a bizarre twist, Nixon was an early supporter of Donald J. Trump. After hearing rave reviews about the brash developer from Nixon’s wife, Pat, who had seen him on “The Phil Donahue Show” in December 1987, he wrote Mr. Trump an unsolicited letter. “I did not see the program,” he wrote, “but Mrs. Nixon said you were great.” He added, “As you can imagine, she is an expert on politics, and she predicts that whenever you decide to run for office you will be a winner!” One wonders what Nixon, a political sage, would think of Mr. Trump the “winner” today.

But there’s little doubt that if Mr. Trump winds up the loser on November 8, Nixon, despite outsize flaws in his own character, would advocate putting country above self. Doing anything less would take some of the greatness out of America.

Donald J Trump and Hillary R. Clinton at Alfred E. Smith Charity Dinner in NYC

October 21, 2016

Donald J. Trump and Hillary R. Clinton at The ( Governor) Alfred E Smith Memorial Dinner (10/20/2016), New York City

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Watch and decide  what you think. I am of the view that both Presidential candidates lacked sense of humour. They could not put their bitter rivalry behind them even for this charitable dinner at The Waldorf Astoria, Park Avenue, New York City. It was all politics. However, Hillary’s message of unity resonates with me since this election season has been the most divisive ever in American politics.  I wish American voters all the best as they go to the polls on November 8, 2016 and elect the new POTUS.–Din Merican

KJ John on Great Leadership

October 21, 2016

KJ John on Great Leadership

by Dr. KJ John

Great leadership is only when all community leaders of Malaysia, whether appointed, elected, or voluntary choose to put nation-state interests above their own and ‘Serve to Lead’ our nation out of the current quagmire.–KJ John

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For all his faults, contradictions and paradoxes, Dr. Mahathir is Malaysia’s Great Leader and he comes from my state Kedah–Din Merican

Premised upon my last three columns on patriotism, a small debate ensued on Facebook about whom or what defines good or great leadership. This column is my response to that query, but I would like to address it from a perspective of an RMC Old Putera, the alumni of the Royal Military College (RMC); our alma mater.

All Old Puteras were trained to ‘Serve to Lead’, or ‘Berkhidmat Memimpin’. The unasked question is who then do we serve and lead? Every Saturday, at the parade square, we actually saluted the flag of the federation, what is now called the ‘Jalur Gemilang’. Therein lay the answer as to whom we were called and taught to serve or seek to lead.

From good to great

Many books have been written about the two words ‘good versus great’. ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins is one very popular one. In the nineties, ‘Built to Last’ was published about great companies with good work ethics and a mature performance culture. But the question remained, what about the company which is not born with a great DNA? How can good companies, mediocre companies, even bad companies achieve enduring greatness?

“For years, this question preyed on the mind of Jim Collins. Are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? And if so, what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?”

I can fully understand why most authors, writers, and scholars shy away from the word, ‘good’. When a Nicodemus, a teacher of the laws of Israel, approached Jesus and asked the question by night, “Good Teacher, how do I inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded with another question: “Why do you call me good; only God is good”.

Therefore, for human systems or organisations like companies or countries, it is easier to talk about being great places for good to great experiences. In fact, Robert Levering, another researcher, as a sequel to ‘In Search of Excellence’ by Peters and Waterman, wrote ‘A Great Place to Work’:

“Good workplaces are worth examining if for no other reason than that they enrich the lives of the people working there. Everyone, after all, would prefer working in a pleasant environment to an unpleasant one. Since most of us spend the greater part of our waking hours at work, this is no small matter.”

Great leadership in Malaysia

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What would great leadership in Malaysia look like? Would it just be, “I did it My Way?” which appears to be Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte’s favourite song? Or, is it our Malaysian way of ‘close one eye culture’ of ‘nasi campur’ – all and sundry meshed together on the same plate, but very delicious to the stomach and human desires? While palatable, it may not be good either for health or body?

What is the kind and quality of good leadership for Malaysia; of the ‘Serve to Lead’ kind? To answer this question, first we need to define the units of analysis to peg the problem definition at its core and essence.

Malaysia is a federation

Any federation is a coming together, a willing one, of many parts to make a whole greater than the sum of its parts. That means the whole federation is a unit of analysis greater that all its parts. We are not a confederation either. A confederation is the coming together of small groups of constituent sub-wholes to make a greater whole. The European Union (EU) is more like a confederation.

For example the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers is a confederation of many industry associations and they come together as a greater whole to dialogue and take concerns with the government or any other party.

Neither are we a unitary state like the Philippines or Indonesia. They have no states with legal existence; except for the newly-created autonomous zones of Aceh, or the Muslim South areas of Mindanao. In Indonesia, post the tsunami, Aceh was made an autonomous zone because of the unique problems they faced.

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Najib Razak is Malaysia’s Most Corrupt Politician  but no Leader, Amen

Malaysia is a therefore a federation of three constituent parts; of the two Borneo States, and the Federation of Malay States. Our whole is greater but the sum of the parts is not 13 or 14; whichever way we argue it, but rather three constituent parts, since Singapore left in 1965.

Parliamentary and constitutional democracy

While nine feudal Malay kingdoms came together to make the Federation of Malaya with two Straits Settlements in 1957, our system of governance was designed, developed, and crafted to become a constitutional democracy. The Parliament defines our laws; both in letter and spirit.

Then, in 1963, when the new Borneo States with Singapore came together to make or form the bigger reality called Malaysia; it was not merely a linear projection of the Merdeka Democracy. It really is an improvement of our parliamentary and constitutional democracy of the four, and later, three states to become a brand new whole greater than the sum of its three parts.

The Federal Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Federation, and it defines all else, including the structure, format, and principles of how our democracy is to be framed, shaped, and continue to be improved.

Anything that detracts from the supremacy of this Federal Constitution, including new developments through the specific interpretation of a Wahhabi form of Islam, or a Shiite-Sufi Islam cannot be included simply because of the tyranny of a majority. The constitution reigns supreme.

Constitutional monarchy

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A Gallery of Malaysia’s Constitutional Monarchs

This past week we had the meeting of the Rulers-in-Council; these include all nine Malay State Rulers, plus politically appointed ‘Malay’ governors, or the other four legitimate entities and their respective politically elected heads of state. All such meetings and protocols are well enshrined protocols within the constitution.

What is not well enshrined by the Federal Constitution can be considered as traditional Malay customs or culture from their historic system of feudal governance of these nine respective states.

Great leadership is only when all community leaders of Malaysia, whether appointed, elected, or voluntary choose to put nation-state interests above their own and ‘Serve to Lead’ our nation out of the current quagmire. May God continue to forgive our ignorance and arrogance.

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(This column is dedicated as my prayer for the future of the nation-state, especially for my grandson who turns two years of life as a Malaysian living in this country we love.)


The Clinton-Trump Debate: Final Round

October 20, 2016

The Clinton-Trump Debate: Final Round

This is the final round of the Presidential Debate between Hillary R. Clinton and Donald J. Trump. Now it is up to Americans to decide on their POTUS on November 8, 2016, which is 20 days away as of today.

Continuity Vs Disruptive Change? Whatever the outcome at the end of the election, we hope you will have voted the better of the two. Your choice will affect the rest of the world because America remains a major economic and military power.

Watching this debate, I am convinced that Hillary R. Clinton will be the next President of the United States of America. She is the winner of this debate. –Din Merican

At 50–Quo Vadis ASEAN

October 20,2016

At 50–Quo Vadis ASEAN

by Tess Bacala

As the international backlash continues over Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, the lack of due process and the consequent deaths of “suspects” in his campaign, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN), along with its individual member states, has been characteristically silent.

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For instance, ASEAN’s leaders and ministers met at their summit in the Lao capital Vientiane last September and discussed a range of issues in the region and beyond. But neither the organization nor its members raised a whimper about rights concerns on the extrajudicial killings of supposed drug users and pushers since Duterte assumed office on June 30.  News reports put the figure of alleged users and pushers killed at more than 3,000 since Duterte took over.

ASEAN’s silence on this issue was not particularly a surprise, but it was the latest example of how it is not the organization’s habit to tell off a member state about its domestic issues.

More typically, it was an outside state like the United States, though not a disinterested country, that brought up the issue of human rights at the September 6-8 summit, where Duterte made his debut on the regional stage.

To human rights advocates across the region, the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits, held back to back this year, should have been an apt occasion to discuss a subject that is otherwise anathema to the Southeast Asian organization, especially given its theme, ’ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together’, which defines the vision of the ASEAN Community for the next decade.

At the ASEAN-US summit in Vientiane, President Barack Obama called to mind a “common vision” for the region — “(a)n open, dynamic and economically competitive Asia-Pacific that respects human rights and upholds the law-based order.”

But this is far from how the situation is from the view of the sectors that have been at the receiving end of certain governments’ systemic suppression of dissent at home. This also comes at a time when the ASEAN Community has been formed with its three pillars — political security, socio-cultural, and economic – and where its peoples can enjoy “human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

ASEAN continues to steer clear of human rights issues in line with the principle of non-interference in its member states’ internal affairs. But as ASEAN turns 50 next year, critics say this adherence to non-intervention should not be absolute, especially now that economic integration is going full throttle after the launch of the ASEAN Community’s in December 2015.

Economic but not political openness

The organization has shown much more openness – and willingness to let go of sovereignty concerns – in the areas of economics and business rather than in political areas such as human rights.

“ASEAN has promoted a harmful contradiction. Member states have abandoned ASEAN principles of ‘non-interference’ and ‘state sovereignty’ in relation to capital and economic policy but doggedly retained them in relation to human rights,” says the alternative document titled ‘Vision 2025: ASEAN Women’s Blueprints for Alternative Regionalism’.

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Ryerson University (Canada)’s Dr. Sorpong Peou

Over recent decades, Southeast Asia has experienced three ‘miracles’: economic growth, the disappearance of mass atrocities, and efforts to promote regional peace and community building,” said Dr. Sorpong Peou, chairperson of the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University in Canada. “Large-scale killings or genocide such as those in Indonesia (1965–66), Cambodia (1975–1978 under the Khmer Rouge), and East Timor (1975–1999 under the Indonesian occupation) “have all disappeared from contemporary Southeast Asia.”

“But authoritarianism keeps threatening to return,” wrote the Cambodian-born scholar in a commentary published by the East Asia Forum in March. “Below the surface of official declarations lies an acceptance among most ASEAN leaders that democracy and human rights should not be pushed too fast and too far.”

Appreciation and interpretation of human rights are subject to national interest rather than international human rights standards,” said Jaymie Ann Reyes, program manager of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism. The Working Group, a coalition of individuals and organizations that include civil society and academics, engages ASEAN on specific rights initiatives.

Rights? It depends

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Some human rights themes and focuses are more acceptable to ASEAN such as women’s rights, children’s rights, and rights of persons with disabilities,” Reyes added.

All 10 member states have ratified the UN Conventions on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Rights of the Child, and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “But there are more ‘sensitive’ issues that are not discussed for fear of violating the principle of ‘non-interference,’” she said.

One of these is refugee protection. The majority of ASEAN countries have not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1954 Statelessness Convention.

A wide range of other rights concerns continues to exist today across the region of 620 million people.

In Indonesia, the vigorous implementation of the death penalty, the enactment of more discriminatory laws against women, and violent attacks against religious minorities are bedeviling the government, according to Human Rights Watch.

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Neighboring Malaysia recently passed the National Security Council Act (NSCA), which empowers the government to declare martial law in areas where there are perceived security threats. Singapore’s Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill, passed in Parliament just a month ahead of the Vientiane summit, is seen as yet another attempt to muzzle freedom of expression in the city-state.

The decades-old Internal Security Act, which allows arrests without warrant and indefinite detention without trial, remains firmly in place in Singapore. (A similar law in Malaysia was abolished in 2012. Yet four years later, the NSCA came into force.)

Thailand’s new constitution — approved in a referendum on August 7 — is seen to reinforce the military’s two-year hold on power.

“For the people in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, the democratic crisis has meant increasing crackdowns on journalists, human rights lawyers, opposition politicians, bloggers, activists and religious leaders. Political deterioration has also contributed to internal conflict in Southeast Asia,” said Yuyun Wahyuningrum, senior advisor on ASEAN and Human Rights at the Human Rights Working Group, a coalition of more than 50 groups advocating for human rights in Indonesia.

The Bangkok-based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), sees “a trend of shrinking civil society space” despite “ASEAN’s aim to be a people-centered and people-oriented community”.

In Cambodia, government critics have been jailed, and more oppressive laws passed. For instance, Kem Ley, leader of the advocacy group Khmer for Khmer, was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital Phnom Penh on July 10 this year.

Although Myanmar has ceased to be a pariah state, its democratic transition has been marked by concern over discrimination against Rohingya Muslims, who are stateless in the mainly Buddhist country.

Punishment under Hudud

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Critics have also dubbed as medieval Brunei’s announcement in October 2013 to impose a tough shariah penal code system, after its chairmanship of ASEAN that same year.

Yet ASEAN prides itself on having an “overarching human rights institution” such as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

In fact, the ASEAN Chair’s statement in Vientiane commended the commission for “the progress of (its) work” and urged it to “promote the mainstreaming of human rights across all three pillars of the ASEAN Community”. But how such “progress” is measured and improves the rights landscape is not clear.

On the eve of the Vientiane summit, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights appealed to ASEAN leaders “to press the Lao government to cease the abuses that have consistently placed Laos at the bottom of rights and development indexes measuring rights, press freedom, democracy, religious freedom, and economic transparency.”

This referred to the unresolved disappearance of Lao activist Sombath Somphone, missing since December 2012. The Lao government had earlier said the issue had no place at the ASEAN meetings.

Looking back, ASEAN’s road to setting up a human rights commission – whose limitations its own commissioners concede – has been far from smooth. The commission’s creation was already a feat by itself.

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ASEAN launched in Bangkok in 1967

The regional grouping laid down the ASEAN Charter in 2008, which stipulated the creation of a human rights body. AICHR was created in 2009. In a process criticized by civil society for falling short of international standards, ASEAN drafted an ASEAN Human Rights Declaration in 2012.

From being taboo, human rights principles were slowly integrated into ASEAN documents, institutions, and language. ASEAN bodies and government representatives are slowly adopting and using human rights language,” said Reyes of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism.

But the AICHR’s limited mandate does not include receiving and investigating rights complaints. “It is high time it (AICHR) evolved from promotion to the protection of human rights,” said a statement by the Thai Civil Society Network on ASEAN and AICHR.

Today, “all ASEAN human rights instruments recognise universal human rights standards with caveats: the principle of non-interference and due regard to the different culture, history, and socioeconomic condition in each ASEAN member state,” Ranyta Yusran, research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Centre for International Law, said at a legal conference in Beijing in May.

Wahyuningrum of the Jakarta-based Human Rights Working Group said: “Human rights and democracy issues (in the region) are not going to simmer down. How is ASEAN going to keep up with these changes if it remains too bureaucratic and difficult to engage with?”

But she said there are encouraging signs. At a recent meeting she attended in Bangkok on legal aid and witness protection for victims of cross-border trafficking, participants acknowledged the political differences among the member states they were representing, but nevertheless focused on cooperation. The participants wanted to develop a cross-border witness protection standard operating procedure, which is a “good start,” she said.

Although AICHR has not adapted to “the changing context and structural challenges” of rights protection, Wahyuningrum credited it with initiating activities that have helped set “different platforms for subregional debate on human rights and clarified the ASEAN dimension on responses to human rights issues”.

For Reyes, there has also been “more robust engagement between and among non-governmental and civil society organizations,” though this faces challenges.

All eyes are now looking to 2017, when the Philippines takes its turn as ASEAN chair during the organization’s 50th year. The country has had a record of speaking up against rights abuses in ASEAN, but there are questions about how – and whether it can still do this credibly – given the furore over extrajudicial killings in the Duterte government’s crackdown on illegal drugs.

Tess Bacala wrote this as a fellow of the Reporting ASEAN project of Inter-Pres Service (IPS) Asia-Pacific (  This story was produced under the “Reporting Development in ASEAN” series of Inter-Press Service Asia-Pacific.