Editorial: Tabling human rights in SE Asia

SOLIDARITY may be one of the promised fruits of membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Yet, during these times, marred by systemic oppression of many peoples in the region, political will to dissent and oppose are needed more to mobilize public condemnation and carry out sanctions against the persecutors of those who are powerless to resist their coercion or violence.

Solidarity should be directed to the marginalized who are isolated due to statelessness, religion, poverty, profession, and other reasons that unjustly draw intolerance and hatred.

If Asean member-nations are unwilling to violate the principle of “non-interference” to take a stance on other countries’ human rights violations then Southeast Asian citizens and collectives must break the silence that makes nations complicit with human rights abusers.

Citizens must pressure their governments to put substance and meaning to the Asean motto: “One Vision, One Identity, One Community.”

According to a Nov. 9 Rappler article, Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch (HRW) deputy director for Asia, said that the Asean has shown a “lack of ‘meaningful and substantive’ human rights policy or actions in its 50-year history.”

The Asean was founded on Aug. 8, 1967 with the signing of the Asean Declaration, also known as the Bangkok Declaration, by the five so-called Founding Fathers of the Asean: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

In the past 50 years, the membership has grown to include five other Southeast Asian states: Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos, and Brunei.
The regional intergovernmental organization’s commitment to regional peace and stability has been challenged by international monitors like the HRW, United Nations (UN), and the Amnesty International (AI) for failing to maintain the equilibrium between economic and political stability and “abiding respect for justice and the rule of law and adherence to the principles of the United Nations charter.”

Even the Founding Fathers of the Asean are dogged by human rights controversies.

The Philippines conducts a Drug War that results in thousands of extrajudicial killings.

A free press and opposition face state repression in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia.

Myanmar’s military and police have persecuted the Rohingya people for decades, driving hundreds of thousands to flee to neighboring countries to escape rape, torture, murder, and other atrocities.

Unlike the UN, AI, and HRW, which have denounced and mobilized international pressure to force governments to stop the persecutions, the Asean is gagged by the “non-interference” principle included in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) of 1976.

A schism of conflicts opens up between “abiding respect for justice and the rule of law” and “non-interference in the internal affairs of one another.”

If a state fails to meet its social responsibilities, HRW’s Kine said that this “requires marshalling the forces within a country… to push back,” Rappler reported on Nov. 10.

One of the crucial tasks that civil society and the media can undertake is to raise public awareness and document facts concerning the persecutions, said Kine. “We are the resistance… facts are resistance.”

Simultaneous with the Nov. 13-15 conduct of the 31st Asean Summit, the Asean Civil Society Conference (ACSC) will draw hundreds of Southeast Asian civil society groups to the University of the Philippines Diliman campus.

The ACSC participants aim to draw up by consensus recommendations for addressing intra-state conflicts, particularly concerning human rights.

Mobilizing civil society activism and solidarities focus on pushing state leaders to acknowledge that only a process of social transformation will turn the Asean dream of regional peace and stability into reality.

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