Amidst the current turmoil caused by social, economic, political, and climate crisis in the region and at global levels, more than 500 participants with gender balance, from a diversity of civil society, ethnic minorities and groups, Indigenous Peoples, LGBTQIA+, Women, Persons with Disabilities, elderly, Buddhist monks, faith- based, migrant workers, informal workers, trade unions, farmers and fisherfolks, youths, human rights defenders, victims of land conflicts, victims of human right violations and people’s organizations of South East Asia gathered together in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from 3-5 November 2022. The inauguration started with a powerful drum performance by all-female cultural group from the host country calling for unity and solidarity among peoples of Southeast Asia, amplifying the voices of grassroots and marginalized communities, the spirit that has been carried on in the last 17 years.
The ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) aims to provide a safe space for peoples’ voices and strengthen an intersectional and cross-movement and cross-border solidarity among ASEAN civil society and peoples’ movements to generate sharing and learning and build solidarity towards an alternative regionalism amidst the rise of militarism and authoritarianism and backsliding democracy and to urge ASEAN Member States to better address inequality and human rights issues stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar crisis, climate crisis, and other threats to human rights and regional stability, and to prioritize an inclusive and sustainable recovery for all peoples in South East Asia.
Over the past three days, through four plenaries and 20 workshops organized under the five convergence spaces, the ACSC/APF delegates collectively discussed the challenges faced, developed recommendations and alternatives by the Southeast Asian peoples and call on the ASEAN governments to take bold actions to address these challenges.
The attempted military coup on 1 February 2021 in Myanmar epitomized how the entrenched confluence of autocracy, militarism, and neoliberalism create a political, human rights, and humanitarian crisis. More than one and a half year since the attempted coup and the promulgation of the Five-Point Consensus, more than fifteen thousand people were arrested, and at least 2,300 innocent civilians were murdered by the military junta and the cruel executions. ASEAN and the international community have not taken serious actions to address the human rights, humanitarian, and COVID-19 crisis in Myanmar and to ensure justice for the long- persecuted Rohingya people. Some representatives of the National Unity Government (NUG) have since apologized for hurtful public remarks made during the height of the violence against Rohingya people in 2017. Corporate investments from countries like China, Australia, and Thailand have extensively shaped and sustained Myanmar’s economic and geopolitical interests of the military junta, which operates the country’s key businesses, further increased the challenges of efforts to move towards a genuine federal democracy based on human rights, equality, and inclusion. It was reminded that the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) process, currently the most open and hopeful policy development process, but those involved in this process have to endure the humanitarian devastation caused by daily military attacks by the illegal junta.
The key elements of structural and social exclusion which give rise to a string of human rights transgressions are also present in other ASEAN countries over the past years. Land rights victims, environmental activists and human rights defenders in several countries, are routinely judicially harassed and intimidated by state forces under the guise of “lese-majesty” “public order,” and/or “terrorism.” In Indonesia and Thailand, civil society groups protest the government’s Criminal Code and law revisions, which include provisions that undermine civic space. The recent sham elections in the Philippines as well as other countries in ASEAN, and the civil and political rights suppression of the opposition political party in the recent Cambodian elections are facets of growing authoritarianism and disinformation in the region. The election system and the election commission in many countries are still corrupted and prejudiced, undermining the conduct of fair elections. Victims, such as those under the Suharto government, are still seeking for the truth of 1965 massacre, and they request justice through reparation, rehabilitation, and confession from the government. With the humanitarian crisis and shrinking civic space getting more critical in Asia, we recommend:
ASEAN focuses on maintaining state and regional security, and its regional priority, through its ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), stresses competition and productivity but misses to integrate the principles of human rights due diligence, socioeconomic justice, climate justice, climate emergency and environmental sustainability. Neoliberalism in ASEAN have expanded the control of market and capital at the cost of worsening inequality, poverty, and environmental destruction, neglecting. The dearth of social protection measures was exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic which threatened the security, welfare, and livelihoods of its peoples. We recommend:
ASEAN has adopted the “ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection’’, and a Regional Framework and Action Plan to implement, followed by high level conferences on social protection. However, ASEAN member countries lack the political will to implement the declaration. Privatization and austerity measures create a harmful socio-economic consequence to majority of people, increase poverty, wage theft, deteriorate income distribution, and pressures to scaling down social protection for vulnerable groups; women, children, youths, LGBTQIA+ people, elderly, people with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples and ethnic minority/groups, farmers, migrant workers, and those in the ‘missing middle’ such as workers in the informal economy, entertainment workers, sex workers, digital platform, and home-based workers. The Social and Solidarity Economy is a viable solution to re-balancing economic, social, and environmental objectives, by putting people and planet at the center, towards the future of work.
The services provided by the government are insufficient and not affordable for poor and marginalized people – home-based workers, those who are working in transport, healthcare, maintenance, homecare, domestic workers, migrant workers, persons with disabilities, women, and LGBTQIA+ people. There is still lack of coverage, services quality, and benefits of social protection for all people. Workers are discriminated because of their gender and employment status. In case of the migrant workers, they are excluded because of their immigration status and the sectors they are working in. In addition, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governments have applied austerity measures including scaling down public services and social protection programs for women, children, the elderly and other vulnerable people. We recommend:
The world, particularly in the Indo-Pacific and Southeast Asia, is currently going through complicated changes and existential threats at alarming rate and complexities never seen in recent decades. The great power strategic competition, especially between US and China has made the situation in the region become more complicated. The Ukraine crisis, caused by major power rivalry and the ignorance of international law has increase the risk of a new arm races and undermined the peace and security environment in Asia in general and ASEAN in particular. Besides, the situation in Myanmar had posed several challenges to regional social- economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era, hindering the development and well-being of people in Myanmar as well as ASEAN in general. The never-ending conflicts and disputes in ‘hot spots’, including the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan Strait, the plague of terrorism, extremist politicized religious fundamentalisms are threatening people’s security and livelihood.
Non-traditional security issues including environmental pollution, climate change emergency, digital security problems, migration, forced displacement of Indigenous Peoples, ethnic minorities/groups, such as the Khmer Krom, and the severe refugee crises are due to the resurgence of islamophobia, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, which continues to evolve in complex and dangerous ways that negatively impact people, communities and states. We recommend:
More than fifty years after the inception of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), it has failed to meaningfully address the issues and concerns of Southeast Asian peoples, and has only benefited the elites, political oligarchies, and corporate interests while social inequalities have exacerbated. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that ASEAN’s official responses were largely tokenistic and inefficient, and were greatly marginalizing, particularly on the women migrant workers, informal economy workers, LGBTQIA+, Indigenous Peoples, ethnic minorities/groups, stateless and internally displaced peoples, workers, and the urban poor. ASEAN governments have also weaponized the crisis through silencing dissent and misinformation to further hamper and weaken the movement of Southeast Asian peoples. Despite these, peoples’ organizations and grassroots communities continued to devise ways to mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic and exemplify cross-border solidarity and mutual aid.
Through the Southeast Asia civil society’s continuous efforts to unite and collectively engage ASEAN, it has gained ample wisdom to move beyond merely engaging the state-led regional body, and to develop a vision of alternative regionalism that is firmly linked with grassroots initiatives based on the principles of solidarity, cooperation, mutual benefits, the commons, and joint development. Alternative regionalism offer an important approach to use in advocating the recognition and the acceptance of human rights tangent to sexual orientation, gender identity & expression and sex characteristic; safe working conditions and living wages; social protection; right to land, resources, and self-determination; access to healthcare; support for victims of gender-based violence and discrimination; digital rights; agrarian reform and sustainable food systems; and inclusive housing and city/urban planning processes.
This alternative form of regionalism is strengthened and reinforced by the People-to-People (P2P) Exchange which allow peoples to learn together and from each other, share resources, build solidarity, and improve strategies. This process of coming together is international relations founded on cross-border solidarity of non-state players, mostly by civil society organizations. From these interactions, progressive national and international policies have become introduced, and eventually adopted by governments through pressure and collective action. To strengthen alternative regionalism, what is needed is networking on many levels based on common bonds and linking with diverse platforms of engagement at the local, national, regional, and global levels that brings together practitioners of alternative development practices. We recommend:
This meaningful 3-day ASEAN Peoples’ Forum in Southeast Asia the home to more than 600 million citizens throughout the region, provides a platform for exchange, dialogues and debates on a broad range of concern issues on various areas:
ASEAN has adopted for the first time in its history, the term “Human Rights” in its official document ASEAN Charter 2007 especially article 14 concerning the establishment of ASEAN Human Rights Body – given the space for further development. In October 2009, AICHR was established in response to the call by civil society and international community but so far still not being able to function well. Later, ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) and Phnom Penh Declaration were adopted in 2012 without binding obligation for the states to put into practice. AICHR Term of Reference should be reviewed accordingly as part of the ASEAN new Human Rights architecture.
The great challenges are before us. Therefore, we believe our collective efforts will bring about meaningful changes in favour of our beloved peoples, citizens and social progresses.
We commit ourselves to work together and in cooperation with our partners both local, regional and international to meaningful social transformation based on justice, equality, well-beings, and peaceful livelihood of all peoples throughout the region.
We call on ASEAN and its Member States to heed the basic principles and uphold Hunan Rights in accordance with the ASEAN Charter 2007 and universally accepted international laws. Pressing the military junta to hand off power and return the country to democracy in Myanmar is an important effort to safeguard millions of lives who are at stake.
We call on ASEAN and its Member States to hold such meaningful dialogues and engaging the state representatives, SOM, AMM, ASEAN Community Pillars, AICHR, ACWC, ACMW and the ASEAN Secretariat to ensure the people-centered ASEAN.
We look forwards to substantive progress of ASEAN State Leaders in implementing the ASEAN 2025 vision, ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and other relevant international Human Rights obligations. Political wills and seriousness are important to ensure the accountability of those who are holding such policy making and administrative power.
We, the civil society needs to join hands, regionally and globally, to strengthen international and regional solidarity to challenge militarism, and authoritarianism, to challenge state repression across the world. An innovation channel to be developed.
We, the participants of the ACSC/APF 2022 express our sincere thanks to the host organizations, the regional steering committees, all committee working groups, convergence space co-convenors, workshop organizers, speakers, panelists, volunteers, interpreters, technical staff and working staff of the event venue.
We look forward to ACSC/APF in Indonesia in 2023.
Together, We Shall Overcome!
The People, United, We Will Never Be Defeated!
Adopted November 5, 2022, Phnom Penh, Cambodia