Reclaiming Asean for its people

2015 is the year where the Asean Community is to be realised. The community is based on three pillars: political and security, economic and socio-cultural. Asean is saying that all three pillars have achieved more than 80% of the implementation.

Saifuddin Abdullah | Published: 19 February 2015

2015 is the year where the Asean Community is to be realised. The community is based on three pillars: political and security, economic and socio-cultural. Asean is saying that all three pillars have achieved more than 80% of the implementation.

But, if we ask the people – the real people – not the officials, the story will be very different. That is why Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has declared that, as chairman of Asean, he is committed to make Asean less elitist and more appealing to the general public.

It is with this background that the Asean Civil Society Conference, or Asean Peoples Forum 2015 (ACSC/APF 2015)’s Third Regional Consultation on 23-24 January 2015, adopted a statement entitled “Reclaiming the Asean Community for the people”. It is also with this background that the Global Movement of Moderates joins the ACSC/APF 2015.

ACSC/APF is an annual forum of CSOs in Asean (started in 2005 when Malaysia was Chairman of Asean), which is held parallel to the Asean leaders’ summit. It is a continuation of earlier initiatives of CSOs which were called the Asean Peoples Assembly (APA).

During the leaders’ summit, ACSC/APF’s representatives will be given a 30-minute session to interact with the leaders where, among others, the ACSC/APF’s statement will be submitted to the leaders. This year, ACSC/APF will be organised in Kuala Lumpur from April 22 to 25, in conjunction with the leaders’ summit on April 26 to 27.

According to Jerald Joseph and Yap Swee Seng, co-chairmen of the steering committee, after making a review of the way past interactions with the leaders were conducted, and the almost no-commitment on the side of most governments, on previous ACSC/APF statements, they decided to approach this year’s meeting with a more strategic method.

First, CSOs are meeting relevant ministries in each of the member states earlier. Second, the statement is released earlier (last week). And third, the statement is focused on priority issues only.

The ACSC/APF 2015 Statement began with a critic: that the people regret that their recommendations since 2005 have been neither implemented nor adopted by governments; and that some people continue to suffer from authoritarian and military regimes, 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 extremism/intolerance.

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; the organisation’s priority towards corporate and elite interests over the interests of the people; and that the people remain excluded from participating fully in Asean decision-making processes.

The ACSC/APF 2015’s statement made specific recommendations on the following:

Ensure development justice: develop the Asean Community rooted in values that promote cooperation, active contribution, self-responsibility and accountability that ensures redistributive, economic, environmental, gender and social justice; establish accountability mechanisms that are binding and that enhance the rights of all people; guard against extensions of intellectual property rights that restrict access and information; establish the Environmental Pillar; lawful recognition of indigenous peoples as citizens with equal rights; ensure trade policy-making are transparent and consistent to human rights obligations; adopt domestic laws/policies in adherence to international human rights treaties/norms; and adopt legal instruments to protect migrant workers.

Protect democratic processes, governance, and fundamental rights and freedom: establish mechanisms to ensure meaningful and substantive participation all the people in all processes; reform constitutions and laws that restrict or deny full civil and political participation of its people; and end human rights violations and persecutions of  human rights defenders/activists.

Commit to peace and security: demonstrate commitment to comprehensive and collective security; establish a Dispute Prevention and Settlement Mechanism; adhere to the principles of peace and security enshrined in the UN Charter and international laws/conventions; ensure that justice and reparation systems conform to international human rights framework; recognise the contribution of women and indigenous peoples in peacebuilding; and resolve territorial disputes and border conflicts under the principle that resources beyond the limits of national jurisdiction are to the common heritage of all peoples and nations.

End discrimination and inequality: adopt the definition of “non-discrimination” defined by international human rights laws/conventions; recognise multiple sites and intersectionality of discrimination and realisation of substantive equality through guarantees of equal opportunities, access and benefits to all peoples; and eliminate clauses and justifications used to deny and violate rights of the people.

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”. – February 19, 2015.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.