November 23, 2015
ASEAN Civil Society welcomes the Launch of ASEAN Community with reservations
For the peoples of ASEAN, this long-awaited moment is met with some disappointment.While the documents signed are replete with language premised on a people-centred community that belongs to all, there remains serious scepticism on the part of civil society as to what the agreements reached and commitments made by ASEAN governments will actually mean for human rights, democracy, development and environment for the ASEAN peoples.
The ASEAN Civil Society congratulates the ASEAN leaders for the launching of the new ASEAN Community. This community, our community, is what we have been looking forward to for a long time.
The 27th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits 2015 has officially signed the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the establishment of the ASEAN Community and the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the ASEAN Community Vision 2025.
Further, we have also witnessed the signing of the ASEAN Convention against Human Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Actip).
For the peoples of ASEAN, this long-awaited moment is met with some disappointment. While the documents signed are replete with language premised on a people-centred community that belongs to all, there remains serious scepticism on the part of civil society as to what the agreements reached and commitments made by ASEAN governments will actually mean for human rights, democracy, development and environment for the ASEAN peoples.
In his opening address on November 21, 2015, Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak, as 2015 chair of ASEAN, declared that Asean had stressed “community and consensus building, over the excesses of individualism and the seeking of selfish objectives”.
He added in his statement that the adoption of the ASEAN Community marked the culmination of decades of effort to integrate, cohere and to forge ahead together.
However, a dichotomy exists between the integration touted by ASEAN officials and the socially minded integration sought by civil society.
“What does this really mean for the peoples of ASEAN?” asked Jerald Joseph of Pusat Komas, chair of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) 2015.
“Regional integration might be the goal but could it be instead selective integration, which has the potential of widening the development gaps? We recognise that this region has huge disparities in political, economic and social development and bargaining powers in the region.”
“Thus ensuring measures are in place to ensure fair representation of diverse interests of the peoples in ASEAN rather than certain dominant nations and interests of certain groups, especially the businesses and the multi-national corporations must be made a priority,” he said.
The ASEAN Community 2015 cannot focus only on integration policies which clearly provide economic and development gains without also removing its reluctance to commit to addressing issues which are deemed to infringe on national sovereignty such as internal conflict, territorial disputes, environmental degradation, treatment of minorities and human rights violations which have negative trans-boundary impacts and consequences.
Today we also witnessed the signing of the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025, Forging Ahead Together, which incorporates the ASEAN Community Vision. The rhetoric around the vision claims that it will be a “bold, visionary, progressive and forward-looking document to reflect the aspirations of the next generation of ASEAN nationals”.
“A review of the document adopted falls short of the above aspirations,” said Joseph. “Despite the ambitious claim, it continues to retain mediocre ASEAN commitment.An example is the commitment to eradicating corruption which seem to focus more on ‘establishing support’, ‘developing programmes’ and ‘strengthening cooperation’, rather than actual commitment on policy and institutional changes. This is typical of ASEAN adopting the lowest common denominator as the threshold for action.”
This new vision gave the possibility of a new approach. Unfortunately it is again a missed opportunity.
The human rights agenda of ASEAN in its Vision 2025 yet again focuses too much on the promotional aspect without a solid protection framework inserted.
Civil society’s call for the mainstreaming human rights in the ASEAN Community 2015 process and in the ASEAN Vision 2015 has again been ignored or given peripheral attention.
“Commitment to human rights is again rather fragmented and established in silos in the 3 pillars’ blueprints,” said Wathshlah Naidu of Women’s Aid Organisation Malaysia, who led the drafting of the ACSC/APF 2015 statement and outcome document.
“It has not holistically addressed how Asean plans to respond to and share resources in addressing emerging issues and issues exacerbated by regional integration such as migration, asylum seekers and refugees and heightened extremism and terrorism.
“Purely addressing these regional concerns as security issues without a grounding in human rights principles and standards creates the path for continued human rights violations.”
Naidu added that “gender equality and the diversity of peoples of ASEAN are also not reflected comprehensively in the Vision.
“Eliminating all forms of discrimination and human rights violations is fundamental towards achieving regional integration that is rooted in achieving equality of all ASEAN countries and its peoples.”
Another key concern raised by civil society is the lack of meaningful and substantive participation, inclusion and representation of all peoples of ASEAN in the drafting process of the ASEAN Vision 2025.
“As civil society, we demand that ASEAN stop co-opting its peoples through its rhetoric on ‘people-centred’ or ‘people-oriented’ mantras without genuinely making the commitment and institutionalising a process where all interests of its diverse peoples are included in its policy documents and agreements through meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders,” said Soe Min Than of Think Center Singapore, who is also a member of the ACSC/APF 2015 Regional Steering Committee.
“ASEAN can only demonstrate its commitment to community building and implementation of the ASEAN Community agenda and the ASEAN Vision 2025 by ensuring engagement of all stakeholders through multifaceted dialogue, feedback and effective participation in determining and shaping the aspiration and future of the region and its peoples.”
As ASEAN moves on with its summit with various dialogue partners, ASEAN civil society again reiterates its concerns and recommendations made over the last 10 years of engagement and calls on ASEAN to escalate its responses to the interventions by the civil society.
“We look forward to strengthened solidarity, understanding and coordinated actions among ASEAN and civil society as key stakeholder for a truly ‘people-oriented, people-centred and rules-based ASEAN Community’,” said Pen Somony of the Cambodian Volunteers for Society, who is also a member of the ACSC/APF 2015 Regional Steering Committee.