Briefing Note Civil Society Engagement with the ASEAN Human Rights Systems
The history of civil society engagement with ASEAN is the journey of believing that engagement can make change in the region. It is also a journey of dialogue between the national and global norm setting on human rights. The impact of having series of pledges, declarations, resolutions, and conventions at the international arena have been infused into the domestic level and then factoring in the change at the regional sphere. Despite the substantial differences existing between international human rights norms and the customs and practices in the region, the engagement also provides an evident on the possibility of establishing the human rights commission within human rights and democracy deficit in the region. One of the most important factors in the engagement is the opening of political space in member countries of ASEAN. The political and economic reform in Indonesia in 1998 allowed civil society involvement in the Association, which speeded up the discussion on the establishment of the human rights commission in ASEAN. For the last seventeen years, civil society engagement with ASEAN has taken different approaches: a) working with the officials, b) confrontation, c) crossing-over, and d) engagement as a partner. All approaches have contributed to the situation we are currently in. However, ASEAN human rights commissions are considered as toothless and aim to shield ASEAN member states from international criticism. They have generated interests and human rights movements among civil society groups and youth. At first, regional organizations representing geographical coverage/ different backgrounds and professions were established to voice the concerns in the first ten years (1996-2006). It followed with the creation of regional organizations and coalitions combining the geographical balance and sectors/issues. Afterwards, regional network groups were created with one focus issue such as women’s rights, child rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, democratization in Burma, the rights of persons with disabilities, business and human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), human rights defenders, etc. (2006-2010). Since 2010 onwards, more and more civil society at the national level realized the important role of domestic pressures as the game changer in ASEAN’s negotiation. National based coalitions to ASEAN or national NGOs were taking regional advocacy on human rights and established their space with the country’s government in terms of submitting inputs, and getting more information on ASEAN. They also conducted diplomatic briefings, capacity building and raising awareness activities and media strategy. This phenomenon can be seen in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Myanmar. Along the years, civil society defines its role in ASEAN as the vehicle of citizen’s participation, the voice for the voiceless, the promoter to social cohesion and equality, the architect of social capacities, the advocate to democratize ASEAN, supporter of the
ASEAN reform, the ASEAN’s watch dog to ensure that the Association is accountable, and act as an important check-and-balance for the promotion and protection of human rights in the region. For ASEAN to pass the test of democracy building, the ASEAN Human Rights mechanisms need to be assessed against normative democratic principles, which will require: o An effective participation of civil society in the process of establishing the body and in its functioning; o The process of its establishment and its functioning to be transparent and inclusive; and o The body to be independent and impartial, in order for it to be able to hold the government accountable.
AICHR Out of frustration over no progress in developing the human rights mechanism in ASEAN as the follow-up of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) in 1993 and the Joint Communiqué of the 26th ASEAN Ministers Meeting (AMM), the Human Rights Committee of LAWASIA created an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism Working Group (Working Group) in 1995.The main objective of the Working group is “to establish an intergovernmental human rights commission for ASEAN”. The Working Group is a coalition of national working groups and focal points from ASEAN member states. National working groups have so far been established in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. These national working groups are composed of representatives from government institutions, parliamentary human rights committees, academia, and NGOs. A number of seminars and public discussions were organized during 1994-1997 to put on the possibility of creating ASEAN human rights mechanisms in the public sphere, i.e. Annual meeting of the ASEAN-Institute of Strategic International Studies Colloquium on Human Rights (AICOHR) and the Annual Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Informal Seminar on Human Rights. During the 31st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in 1998, the role of the Working Group was acknowledged by stating the importance of continuing dialogue with the Working Group on the issue of setting up a human rights mechanism. In the ASEAN Charter, the Working Group is officially recognized in annex II as one of the “entities associated with ASEAN”. Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA), a network of Asian civil society groups operating at the regional and international level, created the Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (TF-AHR) in 2007 in order to bring further focus to its work on more sustained and effective engagement with ASEAN to develop an effective human rights system. It consisted of the civil society representatives from ASEAN Countries sans Laos and Vietnam. In 2009, civil society working on democratizing Burma formed the Task Force on ASEAN & Burma (TFAB). Its main purpose was to promote a people-centered ASEAN that supports the struggle for democracy, human rights, and peace in Burma. TFAB has
been raising voices at the ASEAN Civil Society Conferences/ ASEAN People’s Forum. In 2010, the Human Rights Resource Centre (HRRC) is an independent centre on research and analysis, and training and capacity building for ASEAN regional bodies. It is located in the University of Indonesia, Depok, West Java. HRRC’s partners are University of Malaya (Malaysia), Ateneo University (the Philippines) and the National University of Singapore. Since 2005, Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) has been actively engaging with ASEAN. In 2011, HRWG hosted the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples Forum (ACSC/APF) in Indonesia, which bring together more than 1,300 people from around Southeast Asia and beyond. In Indonesia, while maintaining its independency, HRWG has been championing the partnership relationship with the government in their advocacy work to ASEAN, especially with the ASEAN human rights mechanisms (AICHR, ACWC, ACMW), the ASEAN Committee Permanent Representatives, the ASEAN Secretary General and the Secretariat, the ASEAN Foundation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection. AICHR organized two consultations during the process of drafting the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) in 2012.
The Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN (or the Women’s Caucus) network was formed by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific) in 2008. The main aim was to engage with ASEAN to achieve the full realisation of women’s human rights in South-East Asia. Issues of concern to the Women’s Caucus include violence against women, women’s political and economic participation, migration and discriminatory laws. The Women’s Caucus places importance on the mobilisation of national women’s human rights groups in advocacy with ASEAN. It currently represents women’s human rights groups from ten ASEAN countries. In 2008, around 20 national and regional children’s rights organizations agreed to form a Coalition for the Rights of the Child in Asia or CRC Asia as a mechanism for coordination and communication in pursuing the following common agenda. One of its targets of advocacy is to ASEAN human rights commissions. ACWC invited civil society in an informal dinner in February 2011 during their first meeting in Jakarta. Nine out of twenty Representatives attended the Dinner with civil society groups. In ACWC’s meeting in September 2011 in Solo, Indonesia, ACWC invited civil society again. This time the name of the meeting was ‘informal session’ with sixteen out of twenty Representatives attending the dialogue. In January 2012, ACWC invited selected civil society per country to attend a two-hour Joint-Workshop on the Violence Against Women and Children in Manila, the Philippines. Eighteen out of twenty Representatives appeared in the joint session. During their meeting in the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, ACWC invited selected civil society groups and all twenty Representatives attended the session. Prior to the
session, ACWC met with children representing their countries. In the beginning of ACWC’s meeting, Myanmar requested that all paragraphs in the TOR of ACWC that made reference to “international standards” and “civil society” had to be erased and revised. However, Myanmar withdrew the request after the political reform in the country in 2012.
ACMW The Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers (TF-AMW) is made up of representatives from trade unions, migrant workers groups and human rights NGOs. Formed in April 2006 in Singapore, it aims to help realise the commitment made by ASEAN to develop an ASEAN instrument for the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers, as mentioned in the Vientiane Action Programme and the 2007 ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. Following extensive consultations with representatives from civil society, trade unions, governments and intergovernmental organisations in the region, in 2009 the taskforce released a civil society proposal on an ASEAN framework instrument on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers and submitted a copy to the ASEAN drafting committee. TF-AMW created a national working group in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand. The Indonesian Working Group is hosted by HRWG.
Another Civil Society’s Platform Civil society in the region also use the ACSC/APF, the annual forum since 2005, as a platform to come up with inputs to ASEAN Leaders/Heads of State on human rights. It is organized in the country of the ASEAN Chair. In 2010, Forum-Asia and SEACA established the South-East Asia People’s Centre. This centre was hosted by HRWG in Jakarta. The Centre provides briefing sessions and capacity building activities, and monitors the activities of ASEAN on human rights. The centre is closed down due to lack of funding support.
29.4.2013, Summarized by Ms Yuyun Wahyuningrum, Senior Advisor on ASEAN and Human Rights, email: Wahyuningrum@gmail.com, mobile: +62 815 10543290.