Civil Society Organizations
to Draft an ASEAN People’s Charter
By way of reaffirming their strong commitment to work for
the creation of a just, people-centered, caring and sharing
civil society organizations (CSOs) and trade unions across
Southeast Asia agreed, in their Singapore
Declaration, to create an ASEAN
People’s Charter. The launch of its drafting took
place during the Third ASEAN + Civil Society Conference
(ACSC-III) in Singapore on November 2-4, 2007.
of Southeast Asian civil society groups come together
ASEAN Charter signed by heads of state during the
ASEAN Summit in Singapore to turn ASEAN into a rules-based
organization, the ASEAN People’s Charter is a document
which will contain the collective aspirations of the people
in the region. Participants of the ACSC-III, who numbered
to around 200, said that key issues like human rights,
social and economic justice, participatory democracy,
rule of law, ecologically sustainable development, cultural
diversity, and gender equality will be enshrined here.
The ASEAN People’s Charter is set to be completed
before the 2008 ASEAN Summit in Thailand.
The decision to create an ASEAN People’s Charter
came after a lengthy discussion on the ASEAN Charter draft,
which has not been released to the general public. Since
not all ASEAN member-countries held widespread CSO consultations
for the draft, participants were concerned that not all
of the ASEAN peoples’ needs would be properly addressed.
Among the most pertinent of these are human rights.
ASEAN foreign ministers, however, publicly affirmed during
the 40th ASEAN Ministerial
Meeting on July 2007 that a regional human rights
body shall be mentioned in the ASEAN Charter. As such,
other participants cautioned against the outright rejection
of the ASEAN Charter because this will create openings
for important institutions. “Let us not slam the
door on any opportunity or opening which will allow CSOs
to engage ASEAN further for the promotion and protection
of human rights,” said Program Manager Ray Paolo
Santiago of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights
Mechanism, “what is important is that the regional
human rights body will be in place”. He elaborated
that, on the issue of human rights, the ASEAN Charter
cannot go lower than what is provided for by the Universal
Declaration on Human Rights
Working Group Program Manager Ray
Paolo Santiago presents prospects
for the ASEAN human rights body. He is joined by co-panelist
Rafendi Djamin (left) and moderator Mr. Anselmo Lee (right).
The promise of the establishment of a human rights body
in the ASEAN Charter also encouraged other groups present.
“We support the establishment of a human rights
body in the ASEAN Charter, even if it just mentions the
beginnings (of a human rights body) because this is a
platform where indigenous people’s rights can be
heard. It is our duty to strengthen it,” said Ms.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Expert for the UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights and the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the
Fund for Indigenous Populations. Dr. Yuval Ginbar,
Legal Adviser of the International and Legal Organizations
Program of the International Secretariat of Amnesty International,
also cautioned against the outright rejection of the ASEAN
Charter. He said, “Even if some governments sign
things because they look good on paper, they can take
on a life of their own as time progresses”.
The ACSC is a yearly event, organized by Southeast Asian
CSO organizations, which parallels the ASEAN Summits.
The ACSC-III, entitled “Moving Forward: Building
an ASEAN People’s Agenda”, aimed to advance,
support, and enrich the work of CSOs in the region, whilst
recognizing the limits of their specific focuses. The
organizers of ACSC-III include: the Asian Partnership
for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas
(AsiaDHRRA), Focus on the Global South, Asian Forum for
Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Human Rights
Working Group - Indonesia, Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA),
South East Asian Committee for Advocacy (SEACA), Think
Center – Singapore, and Third World Network (TWN).