Summer Institute 2019: “The State of Rules-based Development”

Jakarta, 26-27 October 2019. The Human Rights Resource Centre (HRRC) hosted the Summer Institute 2019: “The State of Rules-based Development” on 26-27 October 2019 in Jakarta, Indonesia. The key objective of this Workshop is to increase awareness of the rules-based development in the building of the ASEAN Community, and how far ASEAN has transformed itself into the rules-based regional organisation as envisaged by the ASEAN Charter and “ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together” which laid out the current blueprints for the three pillars of the ASEAN Community.

The Summer Institute 2019 began with Welcome Remarks by Professor Harkristuti Harkrisnowo (Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Indonesia; and Acting Executive Director, HRRC), and Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, (Former Secretary-General, ASEAN; and Chairperson, HRRC Governing Board).

In the first session, Professor David Cohen (Director, WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice, Stanford University) highlighted that ensuring compliance with the rule of law in ASEAN runs counter to the ASEAN Way, particularly the informal way of decisionmaking in ASEAN, and the non-interference principle. Dr. Dian Rositawati (Indonesia Programs Director, WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice, Stanford University) provided an overview of the legal environment in Indonesia – pointing out how the Indonesian judiciary has transitioned from one with no checks and balances before 1998, to one that is more committed to democratic rule of law and is more transparent. Dr Rositawati also suggested how the judiciaries of ASEAN Member States (AMS) could potentially work with other partners like civil society organisations and universities to undertake reforms.



In the second discussion session, Dr. Tan Hsien-Li (Co-Director of Teaching, ASEAN Law and Policy Programme, Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore) spoke on how the ASEAN rulesbased regime has developed over ASEAN’s history, and discussed the reasons that ASEAN has a less than stellar record when it comes to compliance with ASEAN-set rules. Professor Kevin Tan (Adjunct Professor, RSIS; and Member of HRRC Governing Board) underscored that a rules-based order necessarily subjugates national sovereignty over these rules, which has caused tensions between AMS’ own individual national interests, and the push for a rules-based regime in ASEAN.

At the end of the day, there was a Special Session by Dr. Seree Nonthasoot (Former Representative of Thailand to the AICHR) who gave a comprehensive talk on the state of human rights in ASEAN. He also highlighted the challenges that AICHR faces: it is only a consultative body, and not designed to be independent as each AICHR representative is accountable to his/her appointing government, even if he/she is supposed to “act impartially”. Again, the tensions between the need for human rights and the ASEAN concepts of consensus and non-interference were highlighted.

During the question and answer segments, the problem of coordination among AMS to promote a rules-based ASEAN was discussed. The role of Indonesia was highlighted as being important in this regard, and the concept of non-interference was debated, though it was pointed out that AMS have gradually allowed certain types of intervention by other AMS within their own borders. At the same time, due to the focus on informality and the reluctance to pursue legal routes in implementing rules, AMS have at times implemented certain measures in a time-consuming way. The diversity of cultures and political systems in ASEAN necessitates a give-and-take approach.



On the second day, an open forum format was adopted for a wide-ranging discussion session with Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Dr. Kavi Chongkittavorn (Senior Fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University; and Member of HRRC Governing Board), and Ms. Elaine Tan (Executive Director, ASEAN Foundation). The importance of ASEAN centrality and a people-oriented, people-centred ASEAN was underscored. It was also pointed out that rapport among policymakers in the AMS had been crucial in achieving concrete results for building the ASEAN Community. The challenge is differing national conditions and priorities. The encompassing ASEAN identity is not yet grasped by a majority of citizens in the AMS. They do not know ASEAN well and cannot accept national interests being subsumed by ASEAN rules and objectives. This underscored the need for greater media and public education efforts to raise awareness of the ASEAN Community among the peoples of the AMS.