THIS is the year when the Asean Community is to be realised, much of it by what the group calls its “three pillars”: the Asean Political-Security Community, Economic Community and Socio-Cultural Community. All three have their own blueprints for regional integration and Asean says they are more than 80% of the way towards forming the Asean Community.
But, if we ask the people — the real people — not the officials, the story is very different. That is why Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has declared that, as chairman of Asean, he is committed to making Asean less elitist and more appealing to the general public.
It is against this background that the Asean Civil Society Conference / Asean Peoples’ Forum 2015 (ACSC/APF 2015) Third Regional Consultation on Jan 22 to 24 adopted the statement, “Reclaiming the Asean Community for the people”. It is also against this background that the Global Movement of Moderates joins the ACSC/APF 2015.
ACSC/APF is an annual forum of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Asean. It was first held in 2005, when Malaysia was chair of Asean, and held in parallel with the Asean leaders’ summit. It is a continuation of earlier CSO initiatives, which led to the Asean Peoples Assembly in Batam, in 2000.
During the leaders’ summit, ACSC/APF representatives are given 30 minutes to interact with leaders, to whom the ACSC/APF statement, among other things, is submitted. This year, ACSC/APF 2015 will be held in Kuala Lumpur on April 22 to 25, as a parallel meeting to the leaders’ summit on April 26 to 27.
The co-chairmen of the steering committee, Jerald Joseph and Yap Swee Seng, have conducted a review of the way past interactions with the leaders were conducted, and noted the near-absence of any commitment on the part of most governments to previous ACSC/APF statements. They have thus decided to approach this year’s meeting more strategically.
First, CSOs will meet the relevant ministries of each of the member states earlier. Second, this would result in the ACSC/APF adopting its statement earlier (in this case, last month). Third, the statement would focus only on priority issues.
The ACSC/APF 2015 Statement begins with a critique: the people regret that their recommendations since 2005 have neither been implemented nor adopted by governments, and that some people continue to suffer authoritarian and military regimes, political violence and armed conflicts, unlawful foreign interference, lack of fundamental freedoms and human rights violations, undemocratic processes, corruption and poor governance, injustice, discrimination, inequality and religious intolerance and extremism.
The failure of Asean to meaningfully address the people’s issues is because of the organisation’s restrictive interpretation of the principles of state sovereignty and non-interference. Asean prioritises corporate and elite interests over the interests of the people, who remain excluded from participating fully in Asean decision-making processes.
The ACSC/APF 2015’s statement makes specific recommendations on the following:
Ensure justice in development: The Asean Community should grow from deeply rooted democratic values that promote cooperation, active contribution, self-responsibility and accountability that ensure distributive, economic, environmental, gender and social justice. It should establish accountability mechanisms that are binding and enhance the rights of all people and guard against extensions of intellectual property rights that restrict access to knowledge, learning and information. The Asean Community should also establish the Environmental Pillar — the recognition by law of indigenous peoples as citizens with equal rights. Concomitantly, it needs to ensure that trade policy is transparent and consistent with human rights obligations, and adopt domestic laws and policies that cleave with international human rights treaties and norms. This also means Asean should and must adopt legal instruments to protect migrant workers.
Protect democratic processes, governance and fundamental rights and freedoms: An effective Asean Community will be facilitated by the establishment of mechanisms to ensure meaningful and substantive participation of all the region’s diverse peoples in all of Asean’s processes. This will involve the reform of constitutions and laws that restrict or deny the full civil and political participation of ordinary people in their own governance. Asean must commit to bring an end to human rights violations and the official persecution of human rights activists.
Commit to peace and security: To demonstrate its commitment to collective security, Asean should establish a dispute prevention and settlement mechanism and adhere to the principles of peace and security enshrined in the UN Charter and in international law, and resolve territorial disputes and border conflicts on the principle that resources beyond the limits of national jurisdiction are the common heritage of all peoples and nations. It should advocate for justice and systems of reparation that conform with the norms of the international human rights framework and recognise the contribution of women and indigenous peoples in peacebuilding.
End discrimination and inequality: To uphold the dignity of its many peoples, the Community must adopt the definition of “non-discrimination”, as defined by international human rights laws and conventions. This would require that it recognises multiple sites and the intersectionality of discrimination. The realisation of substantive equality can be achieved through guarantees of equal opportunity, access and benefits for all peoples, and with the elimination of clauses used to deny and violate people’s rights.
The statement ends with the CSOs pledging to remain united in the quest for a regional development that upholds democracy, peace and security, individual and collective human rights, and sustainable development, for a transformative and “people-centred Asean”.
Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah is CEO of Global Movement of Moderates and former deputy minister of higher education. He is active on twitter (@saifuddinabd).
This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on February 9 - 15, 2015.