The elephants in the (ASEAN summit) room

“The elephants in the ASEAN summit room are plenty and their silence is deafening – human rights, poverty, environmental degradation, ethnic conflicts, impunity. Economic opportunities (but not for all) take precedence over and above all other considerations to what is fair, just and humane existence – that is supposed to give life to the ASEAN theme of ‘inclusivity”. This was what my friend, Edna Aquino wrote at the height of the 31st Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits.

Let me tackle the human rights issue in this post.

asean summit on human rights
Photo via PCOO. Some rights reserved

Various civic groups  talked about how voices from  the marginal groups are not being heard at the ASEAN Summit. “They expressed their disappointment over ASEAN’s alleged failure to recognize the social cost of migration, its impact on families that were left behind, the harassment of Rohingyas in Myanmar, and the ‘horrendous’ treatment of victims of human trafficking.” According to Dr Eduardo Tadem, a convenor of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference and ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APFP), the ASEAN summit mainly discussed about issues on business like how to increase exports and how to promote investments.

There were  two major human rights issues affecting ASEAN : Myanmar’s handling of the Rohingya crisis and the Philippines’ bloody campaign against illegal drug traffickers.  The penultimate draft of Duterte’s “Chairman’s Statement” briefly tackled the Rohingya situation as a matter of “disaster resiliency”.

We … extended appreciation for the prompt response in the delivery of relief items for the Northern Viet Nam flash floods and landslides victims, the displaced communities in Marawi City, the Philippines, as well as the affected communities in Northern Rakhine State, Myanmar.

The 26-page document “contained two paragraphs on the illegal drug problem and how the member countries have worked together in efforts to solve it.”

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat from the Opposition said Asean leaders “chose to ignore”  ASEAN’s mandate of promoting human rights “despite the shrinking democratic space” in some countries in the region.

Only one world leader talked briefly about human rights issue and mentioned to Duterte that “we are concerned with human rights, with the extrajudicial killings, impressed upon him the need for respect for the rule of law and as always offered Canada’s support and help as a friend to help move forward on what is the real challenge.”  During the first bilateral meeting, the joint statement released by Trump and Duterte on Monday, November 13, did not directly mention human rights in the context of the controversial drug war. So none of these hold Duterte accountable to uphold human rights.

asean summit on human rights
Photo via PCOO. Some rights reserved

10 basic solutions

The ACSC/APFP in its statement, added that ” ASEAN may have advanced significantly in incorporating human rights to its principles, but it seems only to be on paper.  Human  rights  violations  have  been  very  evident  in the continuous  threats and actual subjugation of  democratic  rights, fundamental freedoms and economic  rights in the region.”

To address these problems, ACSC/APFP proposed the following basic solutions:

  1. Put a social dimension to the ASEAN integration with emphasis on the rights of the people, particularly the marginalized and discriminated sectors.
  2. Uphold human rights and rule of law.
  3. Review the ASEAN principle of non-interference and advance democracy in decision-making.
  4. Forge regional solutions to regional disputes like territorial claims and the like.
  5. Adopt international laws and policies which adhere to human rights standards, labor laws, and laws on refugees.
  6. Expand spaces for people’s participation.
  7. Build capacities for people empowerment.
  8. Prioritize people’s agenda over corporate interest.
  9. Support people’s alternative regional integration.
  10. Respect struggles of collective resistance.

In the words of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) , the document on ASEAN Human Rights Declaration works “under the spirit of consultation and consensus” which according to Edna means- “i cover your back and you cover mine”.

It is my hope that the next 50 years of ASEAN should  be  a  year  to  realize  the  “hopes  of  its  people  that  is  anchored  on human rights, promotes non-discrimination, equality, and inclusive development.”


Be For the People, 
Work With the People