Over 3,000 individuals and delegates from civil society organizations (CSOs), peoples’ and grassroots organizations representing the ASEAN region as well as Timor Leste and beyond, joined together in solidarity in Yangon, Myanmar from March 21 – 23, 2014 for what became the largest ever gathering of ASEAN Civil Society Conference and ASEAN peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) since its inception in 2005. The record-breaking regional conference, held at the Myanmar Convention Center in Yangon, was also the largest of its kind in Myanmar’s recent history.
The conference, comprising 5 plenaries and 35 workshops, produced a statement which will be distributed amongst civil society in the region and beyond, and forwarded to leaders attending the ASEAN Summit in May in Nay Pyi Taw. The statement called on all governments to recognise the diversity of ASEAN people and develop mechanisms for protection of all human rights irrespective of religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identities and expressions, including intersex persons, ethnicity, race, occupation, political ideology and citizenship.
“This ACSC/APF is a perfect opportunity to set a positive benchmark for the future of ASEAN civil society. Now is not a time for mistrust and fear, but a time for trust building and positivity, for allowing people space to express their concerns and their hopes, and to propose their own recommendations and solutions to ASEAN issues,” said May May Pyone, the Chair of the ACSC/APF 2014 Steering Committee in her opening speech on Friday.
The plenaries related to the theme of “Advancing ASEAN People’s Solidarity Toward Sustainable Peace, Development, Justice and Democratization”. Panelists discussed ASEAN related issues on globalization and its challenges, ASEAN integration in 2015 and Myanmar in transition.
In a landmark keynote speech at the opening session, U Tin Oo, Patron of the National League for Democracy, called for honesty as a prerequisite for genuine reconciliation: “Admitting one's errors is painful, but it is an important step for reconciliation. We cannot let our ego overtake the welfare of future generations. We should be brave enough to face the past with honesty, so that we can work together to solve the urgent problems of this country. I hope that you will continue to encourage all sides to work towards a genuine national reconciliation that is necessary for sustainable peace.” He was appearing on behalf of party leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Delegates participated in 35 workshops under 4 clusters: Peace, Development, Justice and Human Rights, and Democratization.. Side events held by local and regional organizations created an open space for solidarity among educational and environmental sectors, political prisoners, labor rights, solidarity groups and many more.
In the final plenary, the draft of the statement was presented to the audience on a large screen to allow delegates to recommend edits before the final adoption, as part of an inclusive and transparent process. The statement can be downloaded from www.aseanpeople.org and form the conference Facebook page.