INFID’s End of Year Seminar: “ASEAN is Us: INFID’s Notes on ASEAN Performance”

Jakarta, 17 December 2015—This year, the End of Year Seminar of the International NGO Forum on Indonesia Development (INFID) focused on evaluating ASEAN’s performance in involving the public; protecting, promoting, and respecting human rights; and preparing for the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community. The event was attended by representatives of relevant ministries of the government of Indonesia, members of the national parliament, as well as academics and civil society organizations. In his welcome remarks, Sugeng Bahagjo, INFID’s Executive Director, encouraged the participants to reflect on Indonesia’s role in ASEAN, as well as how ASEAN should be more connected to the citizens of the region, especially the youth as the majority population in Southeast Asia.

Iwan Suyudie Amri, the Secretary for the Directorate General on ASEAN Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in his opening speech focused on the theme of Indonesia’s preparedness in embracing the ASEAN Community. He recounted that ASEAN member states, through the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of ASEAN Community and the Roadmap for 2015-2025, have reaffirmed their commitment to establish a community that is people-centred and people-oriented as well as stable, forward looking, peaceful, democratic, and prosperous. This should be achieved by pursuing development in the three pillars of ASEAN, namely the ASEAN Political-Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. In order to ensure that it is achieved, civil society organizations (CSOs) should engage with sectoral bodies in ASEAN.

The Seminar presented “inspirational speeches” by H.E. Fahri Hamzah, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia, and H.E. Marzuki Darusman, former Chairperson of the National Commission on Human Rights and UN Special Rapporteur for North Korea. Both speakers focused on the importance of Indonesia’s engagement with ASEAN, noting the fact that Indonesia is the largest, most populous nation in the region and has a more advanced democracy than most. “The future, welfare, and design of ASEAN is determined by Indonesia. We need to build on that,” H.E. Hamzah asserted. H.E. Darusman viewed that taking a leadership role in the region is crucial to maintain the progress that Indonesia has attained in democracy and human rights. He stressed that “Indonesia is the most open, free, democratic nation in ASEAN. It may well be that we are in vulnerable position if we are surrounded by non-democratic, less free nations. The region then can be a threat to Indonesia’s democracy. We need to push for this region to be more democratic, discouraging values that degenerates Indonesia’s position on human rights.” Echoing Mr. Amri’s sentiment, H.E. Darusman also encouraged CSOs to build constructive relations with ASEAN. “Involvement is better than being an opposition to ASEAN,” he said.

The Human Rights Resource Centre (HRRC) was provided with the honour of facilitating a session focusing on “ASEAN and Human Rights.” Representing HRRC, Aviva Nababan, the organization’s Project Coordinator for Rule of Law, served as the moderator of the session that saw in-depth discussion with six prominent speakers, namely Bagus Takwin from the University of Indonesia; Anis Hidayah, the Executive Director of Migrant Care; Puri Kencana Putri, the Assistant Coordinator of KONTRAS; Diah Pitaloka, member of Commission II of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia; and Roichatul Aswidah, Commissioner of the National Commission on Human Rights.

Mr. Takwin presented INFID’s most current research on “Citizen Perspective of ASEAN,” which combines media analysis, in-depth interview of experts, and a survey of 600 citizens of Jakarta with composition mirroring the national population. While surprisingly most respondents knew about ASEAN, there was no clear knowledge on what the body is. A great majority felt they were not involved in ASEAN’s decision-making process or other activities. Experts expressed concern that ASEAN seems to operate with little transparency and there is no known evaluation of its performance. In terms of dissemination of knowledge on ASEAN, not much information is passed through educational institutions. In fact, news on ASEAN is underrepresented.

The other speakers focused on human rights realities in ASEAN, especially with the start of the ASEAN Community. Ms. Pitaloka viewed the ASEAN Economic Community as an opportunity to find ways to collaborate rather than a source of conflict driven by fear of competition. Ms. Hidayah dedicated her attention to migrant workers’ rights and delivered grimmer realities. Despite the 2007 ASEAN Declaration on Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers, little progress has been made to end impunity for those who violate migrant workers’ rights, she asserted. She expressed her hope that the recently released Terms of Reference for the ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW) can in time bring real improvement to the situation of migrant workers.

Ms. Putri focused her presentation on the regional picture of human rights, placing emphasis on how impunity remains a problem in the region along with the persistent adoption by some parts of the region of perspectives that advance impunity, such as “bread should come first before freedom” and particularity rather than universality of human rights. Further hindrance to human rights in the region is the weak mandate of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), she pointed. However, she remained optimistic as the region has an invaluable capital, namely resilient civil society actors. “Citizen politics is very important. If the state can receive inputs from the citizens, then the citizens should push for the elites’ accountability,” she encouraged.

Emphasizing the points made by the previous speakers, Ms. Aswidah lamented that the issue in the region remains a traditional one: lack of freedom. Human rights protection is further made complicated by the existence of other actors that play a part in violating rights, she asserted. She cited the case of Benjina to illustrate how businesses can negatively impact human rights. She viewed that this complex situation needs to be tackled by managing gaps and imbalances at the national and regional levels.

In closing the session, Ms. Nababan acknowledged that the human rights situation in Southeast Asia is grim. Much hope is placed on ASEAN, she said, but perhaps we also need to understand more about ASEAN and its organs, including their respective capacities and mandates to determine how to most effectively engender change through them. She encouraged civil society actors to engage further with ASEAN, increasing their leverage to provide inputs by applying for ASEAN and AICHR accreditation.