When the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced that it will embark on a process of building a Charter to formalize its agreements and establish its legal framework, civil society groups paid attention. While ASEAN has been generally inaccessible and non-transparent, national and regional CSOs and social movements saw the strategic value of engaging the Charter process. We saw it as a space to stake claims on ASEAN and to demand accountability for its actions. We saw the Charter building process as an anchor for discussing ASEAN and generating interest on what the Association does. By engaging the process, CSOs and social movements hoped to pry open possibilities for transforming ASEAN into a rules-based organization that would work for the mutual benefit not only of ASEAN states but of ASEAN peoples and communities as well.
The Solidarity for Asian Peoples’ Advocacies (SAPA) Working Group on ASEAN invested time and energy to engage the ASEAN Charter building process. SAPA WG on ASEAN made three formal submissions to the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) – on the Political-Security Pillar (EPG consultation, Ubud, Bali/April 2006), on the Economic Pillar (EPG consultation, Singapore/June 2006), and on the Socio-Cultural Pillar and Institutional Mechanisms (Meeting with Ambassador Rosario Manalo, Special Adviser to Mr. Fidel V. Ramos, EPG Member for the Philippines, Manila/November 2006). The WG also participated in the only regional consultation held by the High Level Task Force (HLTF) on the drafting of the ASEAN Charter in March 2007 in Manila, and reiterated the main points of its submissions. Aside from the regional consultations that the SAPA WG on ASEAN worked hard to intervene in, the different network members also initiated national processes in 2006 and 2007 to help introduce ASEAN to civil society and inform them of the Charter that was being drafted.
The Charter drafting had been kept away from public access and scrutiny,
making difficult any engagement in the process. The Charter will be signed
on November 20th during the 13th Leaders Summit, but it was only on November 7th, when a copy of the final draft adopted by the High Level Task Force on the drafting of the ASEAN Charter was leaked to the media, that the Charter finally became known to the public.
The Charter is a disappointment. It is a document that falls short of what
is needed to establish a “people-centered” and “people-empowered” ASEAN. It succeeds in codifying past ASEAN agreements, and consolidating the legal framework that would define the Association. However, it fails to put people at the center, much less empower them. The Charter is all about how Governments will interact with each other, but not about how they also should interact with the people. There are no clear spaces created or procedures established to institutionalize the role of citizens and civil society organizations in regional community-building. And where the Charter is able to protect sovereign interest of Governments, and enshrine confidence building though consensus, it lacks the necessary details for the settlement of disputes, dealing with internal conflicts, and disciplining or sanctioning Members who are remiss in their obligations.
The market-oriented language of the Charter expresses its bias for the
economic project in the region, without recognition that this may be in
conflict with the social and economic justice that the Charter is also
supposed to uphold. The centrality of redistribution and economic solidarity
to the goals of poverty eradication, social justice and lasting peace, is not acknowledged. Furthermore, the market orientation betrays the preference for a “one-size fits all” economic policy of trade and financial liberalization, failing to recognize the heterodox economic thinking that formed the basis of economic successes in the region in the past.
The Charter is gender blind and does not recognize the primacy of the
Finally, the landmark inclusion of human rights in the Preamble and in the
statement of Principles is belied by the lack of detail in the long-awaited
human rights body.
Following are the SAPA WG on ASEAN’s specific comments on the Charter:
1. The opening paragraph sets the tone for the entire Charter,
highlighting the priority of the government over the individual citizen. A
truly people-centered ASEAN should establish that governments are there to
serve the needs and interests of citizens, and governments who fail in their
duties and responsibilities should not be protected by ASEAN. A braver
opening line should read, “WE, THE PEOPLES of ASEAN”, rather than “WE, THE PEOPLES of the Member States of ASEAN”.
2. Human rights are overarching and should form the basic principle of
ASEAN from which all other principles flow. In this sense, human rights
should be integral in all the work of ASEAN. Instead, human rights is
placed low down on the list as a specific issue in Articles 1 and 2), and,
symbolically, placed beneath the principles of sovereignty and
3. While the Preamble and Chapter 1 uphold human rights and fundamental
freedoms, the draft Charter only explicitly states adherence to the UN
Charter, International Law and international humanitarian law, but does not explicitly recognize universally accepted human rights principles, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recently signed international agreements that expand on human rights, norms and standards. The reference to adherence to the “rule of law, good governance and the principles of democracy and constitutional government” in Article 2h, however, may be a good handle to demand for the implementation of these principles in every member-state, especially in the case of Burma.
4. No mention is made of the role of ASEAN in the protection of the
Chapters 1: Purposes and Principles
5. Article 1.5 and Article 2n, related to market and trade, are the
most bothersome. These provisions explicitly talk only about “facilitating
the movement of business persons and professionals”, “the free-flow of
capital”, and “the elimination of all barriers to market-driven economy”,
but do not provide at all for the promotion of redistributive justice,
poverty eradication and growth with equity – ideals equally important to
advance in a regional set-up, nor do they recognize social dialogue and core labor standards. These also fail to give importance to the role state
instruments and cooperation in achieving social goals.
6. The same paragraph mentions the movement of “business persons,
professional, talents, labour” but does not make explicit reference to
migrant workers who make up a significant part of regional labor flows.
There is also no reference to the movement of other people such as asylum
7. Article 1.7 qualifies the promotion and protection of human rights
“with due regard to the rights and responsibilities of the Member States of
ASEAN”. This wording is dangerous, because it undermines the fundamental elements of the universality and inalienability of human rights. It is not made clear what these “rights and responsibilities” of member states are, leaving the way open for governments to violate human rights in the pursuit of their self-defined “national interest”.
8. The provision on sustainable development, protection of the region’s
environment and sustainability of natural resources in Article 1.9 was put
in the same plane as the reference to “high quality of life of its people”,
clearly reinforcing the dominance of the economic agenda of the ASEAN over environmentally sustainable development.
9. Most of the statements are mother/parenthood statements and much is
left to further interpretation and how it is going to be concretely
operationalized in the ASEAN. Does the language in Article 1.4 referring
to “just, democratic, harmonious environment” and Article 1.11 on
“.providing them with equitable access to opportunities for….justice”
translate to agrarian reform/access and control over natural resources? Will the language in Article 9 on “sustainable development” mean the upliftment of the lives of small-scale farmers, fishers, and the rest of the rural poor and the promotion of sustainable agriculture and the non-promotion of the chemical intensive, bio-technology/GMO agriculture? Does Article 1.13 on “people-oriented ASEAN” include all sectors, including organizations of the rural and urban poor, as well as semi-skilled workers, including migrant workers?
10. While Article 1.13 states that participation of all peoples is encouraged, nowhere in the Chapter does it explicitly state how this will be actualized. The Charter does not create consultative and advisory mechanisms
comprised of non-state actors and civil society groups, with adequate
representation from all sectors. Neither does it create a mechanism for
regularly engaging citizens within the region.
11. Article 1.14 needs to make specific reference to indigenous peoples,
rather than simply referring to “diverse culture” which is too general.
12. Article 2.2e needs to establish that states also have a “responsibility
to protect”, that is, the responsibility to protect people from gross
violations of human rights. All ASEAN heads of state and government
accepted this concept of the “responsibility to protect” at the UN World
Summit in September 2005.
13. Article 2.2h/i makes no mention as to what happens, such as sanctions,
if states do not adhere “to the rule of law, good governance, the principles
of democracy and constitutional government” or “respect for fundamental
freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and the promotion of social justice.”
Chapter 3: Membership
14. The principle of non-interference (Preamble, Chapter 1, Article 2e/f)
that characterizes the “ASEAN Way” is further reaffirmed in the Charter.
However, we believe that exceptions must be made for clearly defined
regional standards for state behavior, particularly on human rights and
environment, serious breaches of which may carry ASEAN-imposed sanctions.
15. While on the whole we agree that there should be equality of rights and
obligations among Members, there should also be a socializing factor whereby better resourced members are able to contribute to special funds to assist other members in the spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and regional redistribution.
Chapter 4: Organs
16. The Charter provides for the establishment of a human rights body,
committing all member states to its creation. However, no further details
are included regarding the setting up of the body, its roles and
responsibilities, or the timeframe for its creation. Considering the more
than a decade of work many sectors have put into the creation of an ASEAN human rights mechanism, the Charter should have had more details in it, and not run the risk of making this landmark provision inconsequential in operation.
17. There will be more meetings (of the ASEAN Leaders and the Foreign
Ministers, and of the new organs created in the Charter), but it is unclear
how these additional meetings and new organs will bring about a
people-centered ASEAN. Almost all of the organs remain state- or
18. Article 15 redefines the role of the ASEAN Foundation as a collaborator
with the different ASEAN bodies in support of “community-building’. It is
only under this article that “civil society” is mentioned. This redefinition
seems to imply that the ASEAN Foundation now becomes captured by purely official ASEAN agenda. Whereas before CSOs could apply for support without getting ASEAN accreditation or approval (and the ASEAN Secretariat sits only ex-officio in the Board), the ASEAN Foundation now becomes an internal entity to serve official ASEAN agenda.
19. In outlining the main decision making organs within ASEAN, there is not a single mention of engagement with citizens and civil society (except in the context of the ASEAN Foundation), or the means by which citizens and civil society can influence decisions and processes of the ASEAN.
20. Gender equality in the choice of officials in the ASEAN bodies is only
mentioned under the provisions on the Secretary General, but is absent
Chapter 5: Entities Associated with ASEAN
21. Unfortunately we are unable to obtain a copy of the annexes, including
Annex 2 which supposedly lists the entities associated with ASEAN. The
expectation is that this is where citizens and civil society participation
is institutionalized in the ASEAN, but even this is not certain. Like a few
other bodies created in the Charter, the entities mentioned here are yet
undefined, with rules and criteria for engagement still to be determined by
the yet to be formed Committee of Permanent Representatives .
Chapter 7: Decision-Making
22. Chapter 7 still puts premium on consensus as the institutional and the
preferred mode of decision-making. The affirmation of consultation and
consensus actually encourages unanimity based on the least common
denominator, and leaves much room for recalcitrant members to sabotage any consensus building processes around democratic values and the principles of the rule of law and good governance. Furthermore, to leave it to the ASEAN Summit to decide on a specific decision making process should consensus not be achieved allows for even greater leeway for political accommodation for which the ASEAN is historically known.
23. The Charter does not specify any space for citizens and civil society
groups in policy-and decision-making, detracting from the essence of
consultation and consensus-building by not affirming the people-centered
principle of building regional identity through people’s participation.
24. Chapter 7 Article 21 leaves the prescription of each ASEAN Community Council’s rules of procedure to each council. There should be a mechanism to standardize the procedures for all councils.
Chapter 8: Settlement of Disputes
25. Disputes implied in the Charter only cover conflicts between and among ASEAN states, and do not address internal conflicts which are also
significant in the region.
26. Except for disputes concerning economic agreements, for which the ASEAN Protocol for Enhanced Dispute Settlement Mechanism shall govern, the Charter provides for the establishment of dispute settlement mechanisms but for which no process or timeframe has been prescribed.
27. The issue of compliance is not addressed organically, except for cases
to be referred to the ASEAN Summit for decision, limiting the efficacy of
the to-be-established DSMs because the Summit by practice would yield to
28. The Charter does not recognize the need to establish conflict
prevention and early warning mechanisms at the regional level with the
involvement of citizens and civil society with demonstrated capacity to
assist in conflict situations.
Chapter 9: Budget and Finance
29. Aside from provisions on “internal and external audit”, the Charter
does not provide clear mechanisms for how the budget and finance of the
Association can be made transparent and accessible to the public.
Chapter 10: Administration and Procedure
30. The ASEAN Charter does not mention how Chairmanship by countries whose leadership faces legitimacy questions shall be dealt with.
31. The choice of English as the working language of ASEAN, without
reference to the use of regional languages for at least some purposes,
leaves a big gap in terms of the need to promote national languages as a
means to promote and protect the cultural heritage of the region.
32. The Charter does not provide for clear mechanisms for transparency and access to official information, and official processes, in the ASEAN.
Chapter 12: External Relations
33. Article 41.4 states that “in the conduct of external relations of
ASEAN, Member States shall, on the basis of unity and solidarity, coordinate and Endeavour a common position and pursue joint actions”. This is a bold statement that affirms the centrality of ASEAN. Considering the less-than-unified positions espoused by individual Member Countries in multilateral fora (e.g. the WTO) in the past, it is interesting to know how
the ASEAN would go about crafting common positions after the Charter is
34. Consistent with the overall absence of the role of citizens and civil
society in ASEAN, the Charter does not say anything about their role in
helping ASEAN to develop and to determine its foreign policy, and in
determining the status of external partners of ASEAN.
35. Considering the importance of migrant workers and their families in the
conduct of ASEAN’s external relations, the absence of any mention about
labor mobility as an issue to be discussed with external partners is
Chapter 13: General and Final Provisions
36. It is provided that the “Charter shall be subject to ratification by
all ASEAN member states in accordance with their respective internal
procedure”. This is short of what the Second and Third ASEAN Civil Society
Conference (ACSC-II and III) called for, which is ratification by popular
37. The provision on Review (Article 50) only gives the requisite timeline
(of five years after the Charter enters into force) but no clear procedures
for its conduct, including who will be involved and how extensive such
involvement would be.
The Solidarity for Asian Peoples’ Advocacies (SAPA) is an open platform for consultation, cooperation and coordination among and between Asian social movements and civil society organizations including NGOs, people
organizations and trade unions who are engaged in action, advocacy and
lobbying at the level of inter-governmental processes and organizations.
SAPA aims to enhance cooperation among its members and partners to increase the impact and effectiveness of their engagement with inter-governmental bodies. Currently, there are four Working Groups in SAPA: Working Group on ASEAN (WG-ASEAN), Working Group on the UN Human Rights Mechanisms (WG-UNHR), Working Group on Migration and Labor (WG-ML), and Working Group on North East Asia (WG-NEA). There is also an Informal Caucus on South Asia.
The SAPA WG on ASEAN is a common platform for collective action on ASEAN
advocacy. The WG-ASEAN respects and promotes the multiplicity of
perspectives, strategies and forms employed by its individual members, as it
strives for specific unities in ASEAN-related advocacy and action.
Presently, the SAPA WG on ASEAN has more than 100 CSOs, national and
regional organizations, as members.
Further information and documents related to SAPA and SAPA WG on ASEAN
activities may be downloaded from http://www.asiasapa.org
For more information, please contact the SAPA WG on ASEAN Focal Points:
Corinna Lopa, South East Asian Committee for Advocacy, email@example.com,
Anselmo Lee, FORUM-ASIA, Anselmo@forum-asia.org, +66-81-8689178
For more information on the SAPA WG on ASEAN’s engagement of the ASEAN
Charter process, please contact:
Jenina Joy Chavez, Focus on the Global South, firstname.lastname@example.org,
Alexander Chandra, Institute of Global Justice, email@example.com,
Workshop organised during World Social Forum in Belem
31 January 2009
The global financial system is unravelling at great speed. This is happening in the midst of a multiplicity of interlinked crises in relation to food, climate change and energy arising from the workings of the currently dominant global neo-liberal model. The failure of this economic model has been forcefully made evident. More than two decades of privatisation, liberalization and deregulation in many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America have had devastating effects on industrial and agricultural capacities, formal sector employment, independent livelihoods and the environment. Despite the intensity of the crisis a ‘business as usual’ agenda is being pursued in the US and EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) which is dis-integrating the existing and emerging regions of the South.
Finding solutions to the global crises has now become the major concern across the globe. This workshop will highlight the debate around the idea of ‘de-globalisation’ and the challenges and possibilities of moving forward in the concretisation of regional alternatives to the economic, financial, food, climate and energy crises and instead place the interest of people and the planet at its center. It will aim to encourage cross-fertilisation from experiences on regional alternatives among social movements and civil society organisations from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.
The Global Crises & De-Globalisation
Walden Bello – Focus on the Global South & Freedom from Debt Coalition
Regional responses to the crisis: experiences & challenges from Africa
Michelle Pressend – BioWatch & Trade Strategy Group, South Africa
Regional responses to the crisis: experiences & challenges from South East Asia region: ASEAN
Joy Chavez – Focus on the Global South & SAPA, Philippines
Regional responses to the crisis: experiences & challenges from South Asia region: SAARC
Asfar Jafri – Focus on the Global South & People’s SAARC, India
Regional responses to the crisis: experiences & challenges from Latin America
Graciela Rodriguez – IGTN, Brazil
Northern Counter-Strategies – including regional responses to the crisis: experiences & challenges from Europe
Brid Brennan -Transnational Institute, Netherlands
Thomas Wallgren – Attac Finland
Open Forum Discussion: The potential of regional alternatives and the need for cross-regional networking – focus and priorities
Gonzalo Berron – CSA/HSA
Cecilia Olivet – TNI
Moderator: Adhemar Mineiro, REBRIP – Brazil (Moderator)
Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA), Focus on the Global South, Transnational Institute (TNI), Third World Network-Africa, Siemenpuu (Finland) and People’s Agenda for Alternative Regionalisms (PAAR)
Read the report from Belem here