Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Last updated: 9 December 2023


Indonesia is chairing the ASEAN Summit in 2023, and the Summit’s final meeting took place on September 4. Previous ASEAN Summits have fallen short of meeting commitments under domestic and international laws on the protection of human rights and the ability of citizens and civil society to engage freely in public discourse. Similarly, Indonesia has been criticized at this Summit for a lack of engagement with civil society and the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF), which is recognized in the “ASEAN Socio-Cultural Blueprints 2015” as an annual forum for civil society engagement in ASEAN. Please see the News Item below in this report more details.


The stated aims and purposes of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are: (1) to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region; and (2) to promote regional peace and stability through showing respect for justice and the rule of law among countries in the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter.

Political scientists generally attribute the establishment of ASEAN in 1967 to the five founding member states’ desire for a stable external political and military environment to thwart the spread of communism; the need to pursue national and regional economic development; and to check Indonesia’s ambition in the late 1960s to become a regional power through its confrontation with Malaysia and Singapore.

ASEAN currently consists of ten member states. The five founding member states in 1967 included Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Brunei joined in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Lao P.D.R. and Burma (Myanmar) in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999. In 2013, ASEAN agreed to allow Timor Leste to “participate” in future meetings, and the country’s Strategic Development Plan 2011- 2030 says it will “pursue [ASEAN] membership as a priority foreign policy goal.” Although Malaysia has been a top proponent of Timor Leste’s membership in ASEAN, it still does not appear to be imminent.

ASEAN faces challenges on the political front. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), which was established as ASEAN’s human rights commission in October 2009, is perceived to be “toothless.” Similarly, the ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights, which was signed and adopted in November 2012, fails to meet minimum international standards and could erode fundamental freedoms. In particular, civil society organizations (CSOs) criticize the Declaration for violating the principle of the universality of human rights by allowing an exception for governments to consider human rights “in the regional and national context.”

Headquarters Jakarta, Indonesia
Members 10
Established 1967
Founding Document Bangkok DeclarationASEAN Charter
Head Secretary General: Dr Kao Kim Hourn (Cambodia)
Governing Bodies Meeting of the ASEAN Heads of State and Government (held annually)
ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (Foreign Ministers)
Secretary-General of ASEAN (five-year term)
Key Human Rights Agreements Declaration on Human Rights
Key Judicial Bodies ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights Body (AICHR) (quasi-judicial body established on October 23, 2009)
Brunei Malaysia Singapore
Cambodia Myanmar Thailand
Indonesia Philippines Vietnam
Freedom of Association Legal Protection Principle 32 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration states that “Every person has the right, individually or in association with others, to freely take part in cultural life, to enjoy the arts and the benefits of scientific progress and its applications and to benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or appropriate artistic production of which one is the author.”
Judicial Bodies The ASEAN Human Rights Body – the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) -was established on 23 October 2009. The AICHR is a consultative body, without authority to consider cases, issues binding decisions, or undertake investigative missions.
Civil Society Participation Ability to Participate in OAS Activities Civil society organizations (CSOs) can become affiliated with ASEAN, which provides CSOs with information about ASEAN and limited opportunities to participate in ASEAN policymaking.
Registration Process Specific details are listed in “Guidelines on ASEAN’s Relations with Civil Society Organizations
Registered CSOs 58 (as of the last published list in 2008)
Human Rights Defenders Current Status Human rights defenders face restrictions in the ASEAN region. The situation, however, is extremely varied across the ten member states.

Fundamental Freedoms and Human Rights Bodies

There are no legal provisions in the ASEAN Charter that directly address the right to freedom of association. However, the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, which was adopted on November 18, 2012, grants “every person” the right to freedom of association individually or with others (Principle 32), but this right is subject to “regional and national context” (Principle 7).

The ASEAN Charter does, however, make indirect reference to issues relating to freedom of association.  Notably:

  • The Preamble to the ASEAN Charter (page 2) states: “ADHERING to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms;”
  • Article 1 [Purpose (page 4)]: “7. To strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, with due regard to the rights and responsibilities of the Member States of ASEAN;”
  • Article 2 [Principles (page 6)]: “ASEAN and its Member States shall act in accordance with the following Principles: … (h) adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government.”

Perhaps more importantly, Article 14 of the ASEAN Charter envisions an ASEAN Human Rights Body:

  1. “In conformity with the purposes and principles of the ASEAN Charter relating to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, ASEAN shall establish an ASEAN human rights body.
  2. This ASEAN human rights body shall operate in accordance with the terms of reference to be determined by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting.”

On July 20, 2009, at the 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the Ministers adopted the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the ASEAN Human Rights Body, which is called the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).  The AICHR was inaugurated and the implementation of its terms of reference was endorsed by leaders of ASEAN Member States at ASEAN’s 15th Summit on October 23, 2009 in Hua Hin, Thailand. The Summit was held amid much criticism by CSOs that believed the AICHR lacked clear protection mechanisms and capabilities to address various human rights issues within ASEAN. In response to such criticism, ASEAN leaders relied on the fact that the TOR of the newly established regional human rights body would be reviewed every five years.

The AICHR is conceived principally as a consultative body, without authority to issue binding decisions, consider cases, or undertake investigative missions. Its decisions are made by consensus, which means that authoritarian regimes like Laos and Vietnam or countries like Cambodia that are influenced by foreign powers (such as China) can wield veto power. Furthermore, the commissioners appointed to the AICHR are accountable to the appointing governments; individual governments can therefore appoint or remove commissioners as they deem appropriate. The TOR for the AICHR states that each member state has the authority to appoint its own representative to the AICHR through a process that it deems appropriate. With the exception of Indonesia and Thailand, where the process of nominating representatives is perceived by CSOs as fair, the selection process in the rest of the member states is exclusively handled by governments, with no consultation or participation from civil society. Each AICHR representative serves a term of three years and may be consecutively re-appointed for one additional term.

No independent observers are presently included on the AICHR. The AICHR is only authorized to develop strategies, raise awareness, promote capacity building, develop common positions, issue advisory opinions, draft documents, undertake research, and facilitate dialogue and consultation between members. Consequently, there is a general perception that the AICHR will never be effective and that instead ASEAN will use the AICHR to whitewash its human rights violations.

The AICHR convened its First Meeting from March 28 – April 1, 2010 at the ASEAN Secretariat. During that meeting, the Rules of Procedure that guide the operations and conduct of the AICHR were formulated. These rules were finalized at the Second Meeting of AICHR held from June 28 – July 2, 2010 in Vietnam and were submitted to the 43rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on July 19-20, 2010, where they were ratified and approved. In addition, the 43rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting approved the work plan of the AICHR, which enabled the newly-established body to proceed with its mandate, including the drafting of a regional declaration of human rights.

The ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in November 2012. However, it was criticized as “deplorable” by CSOs throughout ASEAN and internationally. Among the main concerns was that the Declaration implied a lower level of protection of human rights in ASEAN than the rest of the world by subjecting the “realization of human rights to regional and national contexts.” Moreover, the Declaration ironically included in its preamble a pledge by member states to commit to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of the United Nations, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and other international human rights instruments to which ASEAN member states are parties but whose standards the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration fails to meet. In addition, there is no clear mechanism to make complaints of violations of rights or a system of redress, so backsliding on the Declaration by governments is always a possibility. Despite this, there have been few serious attempts to improve the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights.

In 2017, CSOs on the sidelines of the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila proposed to ASEAN ministers to prepare the ground for the establishment of an independent regional court to promote and protect human rights and prosecute abuses by member states. Such a court would be modeled on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights founded in 1979 and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights founded in 2004. To date, no progress has been made towards the establishment of such a court.

Civil Society Participation

The principal means for civil society to participate in ASEAN affairs (i.e., to establish a working link with an ASEAN body) is through written submissions to the ASEAN Secretariat. Specific details of establishing such affiliation are listed in “Guidelines on ASEAN’s Relations with Civil Society Organizations.”  However, CSOs have found this participatory mechanism to be weak and ineffective.

According to the above-mentioned Guidelines, an application for affiliation shall include, at a minimum, information regarding the nature and purpose of the application of the CSO, its constitution and by-laws, a copy of its registration papers, its membership, background on its key officials, its function, activities, and projects. All applications for CSO affiliation must be submitted to the Secretary-General of ASEAN. If the ASEAN Secretariat considers the application in conformity with the Guidelines, it shall be referred to the appropriate link body, or if an appropriate link body cannot be identified, to the ASEAN National Secretariats for their views. After four months, unless there is an objection, the application shall be submitted to the ASEAN Standing Committee for its consideration. The ASEAN Standing Committee shall consider the application for participations based on detailed criteria, relating to membership and conformity of CSO objectives with ASEAN aims, among others.

Historically, ASEAN has been adverse to the participation of CSOs. During the 1990s, however, opportunities arose under “Track Two meetings” for some forms of representation from research institutes and CSOs in ASEAN. [Track One activities are carried out by governments; Track Two activities are carried out by strategic institutes and NGOs in the region.]  In 2000, the first ASEAN People’s Assembly was convened.

In the 2000s, peripheral engagement with ASEAN expanded, with more CSOs convening satellite meetings. For example, there is now the ASEAN Civil Society Conference, which was initiated in 2005; the Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA), which was initiated with a coordinating office in Jakarta in 2005; and the ASEAN People’s Forum, which was initiated in 2008.  The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism that lobbied for the establishment of an ASEAN human rights commission succeeded with the establishment of the AICHR, whose first meeting was held from March 28 – April 1, 2010.

Since 2010, the focus of CSOs has shifted to establishing a better framework for human rights cooperation through ASEAN conventions and other ASEAN instruments dealing with human rights, especially in light of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, whose protections are below international standards. Nonetheless, CSOs continue to demand more “meaningful engagement” on a range of issues with ASEAN human rights bodies. In October 2013, for example, ASEAN convened at the 6th Regional Consultation on ASEAN and Human Rights in Jakarta, where more than 60 CSOs and member states discussed reviewing the AICHR Terms of Reference (ToR) and business and human rights in ASEAN. In March 2015, ASEAN announced they still intended to revise the ToR, with human rights groups urging ASEAN to use the opportunity to increase AICHR openness to civil society and ensure an effective decision-making process in the interest of transparency and integrity.

Yet, memories of prior rifts between member states and CSOs remain strong among CSOs. For example, in October 2009, at the 15th ASEAN Summit, prior to a scheduled “interface meeting” with Heads of Government, five member states – Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, and Singapore – refused to meet the five CSO representatives from those respective countries. The other CSO representatives were instructed that they would not be permitted to speak at the event. Moreover, in 2012, the ASEAN Summit was marked by clashes between the chair, Cambodia, and CSOs. CSOs were forced to cancel workshops on land grabbing and human rights in Myanmar due to political pressure. There were also two separate ASEAN Civil Society Conferences (ACSC) held simultaneously in Phnom Penh: one was supported and massively attended by CSOs close to the Cambodian authorities; and the other was sidelined from the official Summit and attended by hundreds of independent CSOs.

The ASEAN Summit in Yangon, Myanmar in 2014, similarly, was a test for Myanmar when it was chair. Although there were no outcries against Myanmar’s actions during the ASEAN Summit as with Cambodia in 2012, attention still focused on whether the country could deliver on its theme of “Moving Forward in Unity for a Peaceful and Prosperous Community.” This proved to be elusive for Myanmar, with its domestic instability and other regional security tensions, such as the South China Sea dispute, overshadowing any progress that Myanmar could claim to have made.

In 2015, the chair was Malaysia, whose overall theme was “Our People, Our Community, Our Vision,” reflecting its leadership’s focus on “bringing ASEAN closer to the people.” However, ASEAN observers were quick to dismiss this as paradoxical. They noted that Southeast Asia continues to be dominated by authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes that often restrict civil society and that activities and projects of ASEAN are often known to only political leaders, government officials, and elites, while little information is disseminated to the citizens and concerned stakeholders and CSOs. As chair, Malaysia did not bring many tangible benefits for either the region’s business community or civil society in part because it was unable to bring all member-states into consensus on commitments.

In 2016, when Laos became the chair of ASEAN, it duplicated Cambodia’s leadership example by undermining the voice of CSOs. For example, Laotian civil society representatives attending an annual meeting during the ASEAN summit were unable to address human rights issues in Laos because the only CSOs allowed to speak were those selected by the Government of Laos.

In 2017, which was ASEAN’s 50th anniversary, the ASEAN chair turned to the Philippines. In 2016, Duterte had made global headlines with his criticism of the United States and call for a break in relations as well as reduced security cooperation with Washington. In addition, his favorable policies towards China in the handling of the South China Sea disputes quickly became a signature of his diplomacy. Nonetheless, Duterte pledged to “highlight ASEAN as a model of regionalism and a global player with the interest of the people at its core.”

In 2018 and 2019, the ASEAN chairs were Singapore and Thailand, but hope for greater civil society engagement proved mostly futile. There was, for example, no mention of “civil society” or “human rights” at the 2018 ASEAN Summit and in 2019, the reported atrocities against Rohingyas of Myanmar continued to be a human rights concern weighing on ASEAN, with CSOs calling for an international response and ASEAN maintaining that Myanmar must only “exercise responsibility.” Moreover, in 2019, Thailand’s agenda was focused on economic cooperation and regional security, and at the 34th ASEAN summit in Bangkok CSOs were denied a meeting with ASEAN leaders.

The year 2020 began with hope that the new ASEAN chair, Vietnam, would engage civil society more than ASEAN chairs have in previous years. However, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted focus to developing collective efforts against COVID-19, with government coordination with CSOs being largely limited to national and regional health initiatives. With Brunei as the ASEAN chair in 2021 and a theme of “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper,” the focus remained on strategic and coordinated emergency and disaster response, as well as on public health and economic recovery from the pandemic. At the ASEAN Summit, the Sultan of Brunei emphasized that ASEAN would also continue to create optimal conditions for young people to become more dynamic and resilient in knowledge and skill development and that ASEAN would make efforts to protect vulnerable groups through the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF).

The 2022 ASEAN Summit, which was held in Cambodia, did not see any significant mention of human rights, including in the joint post-summit “vision statement,” which only referenced human rights concerns related to the situation in Myanmar. Moreover, although more than 60 CSOs signed a joint letter urging U.S President Biden to raise Thailand’s restrictive NGO law in discussions with the Thai government at the Summit, that law did not receive mention or criticism at the Summit. Likewise, Indonesia, which chaired the ASEAN Summit in 2023, was criticized by CSOs at the Summit for a lack of engagement with civil society and the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF). The ACSC/APF is recognized in the “ASEAN Socio-Cultural Blueprints 2015” as an annual forum for civil society engagement in ASEAN.

General News

ASEAN engages with academia, civil society to shape regional economic integration post-2025 (November 2023)
The High-Level Task Force on ASEAN Economic Integration (HLTF-EI) held two direct interfaces to engage with representatives of the academic community and CSOs and gather their insights on the development of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Post-2025 agenda. The discussions focused on best practices and lessons learned from ASEAN’s ongoing economic integration efforts, as well as aspirations for the AEC in the post-2025 environment.

Indonesia must not fail its commitment to ASEAN socio-cultural agenda (May 2023)
Ahead of the opening of the 42nd ASEAN Summit in Labuan Bajo, the Indonesian government announced its commitment to prioritizing the regional socio-cultural pillar, aiming at strengthening cooperation in the protection of migrant workers, regional health architecture and enhancing the development of rural regions. However, Indonesia, the chair of ASEAN 2023, has so far omitted engagement with civil society and the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF), which is recognized in the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Blueprints 2015 as an annual forum for civil society engagement in ASEAN.

A Missed Opportunity on the EU-ASEAN Summit (December 2022)
In 2020, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) upgraded their longstanding relationship to a strategic partnership. However, even unofficial side events seem to be tackling more consequential issues than the official summit itself, which smacks of indifference and does not do justice to the countless hours spent by EU and ASEAN civil servants, diplomats, and civil society actors who have tried to address these challenges—be they military, supply chain geopolitics, or human rights—in other fora.

US Withdraws from ASEAN Counter terrorism Meeting (July 2022)
The US Department of Defense has withdrawn from the two-day ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) Plus Experts’ Working Group on Counter Terrorism, co-chaired by the Myanmar military, which opened in Moscow. On July 14, 448 civil society organisations sent open letters to the USA, Japan and South Korea urging a boycott of the meeting and for the exclusion of Russia and the Myanmar junta in ADMM.

How Will Cambodia as ASEAN Chair Handle the Myanmar Crisis? (December 2021)
After months of doing little to respond to the February 1 coup in Myanmar—as well as the Myanmar military’s subsequent crackdown on civil society, murdering of opponents and overall mismanagement of the country—the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) finally took a step toward a more resolute reaction in late October, when it disinvited Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing from its annual summit as well as the East Asia Summit immediately thereafter. He was also not invited to a meeting between ASEAN and European states in late November.

A Way Forward For The ASEAN Identity (August 2021)
ASEAN has long been known as an elite organization that may be distanced from grassroots. As an intergovernmental institution, states remain powerful actors in decision making in ASEAN. Attempts to include the participation of Southeast Asian civil society organizations (CSOs), however, remain unclear. ASEAN also does not have norms and mechanisms to bridge communication between the organization and CSOs across the region. This leads to the limited role of civil societies only in each country of origin.

A Wish for ASEAN (August 2020)
ASEAN needs to remain relevant to the younger generations by involving them in charting a future that nurtures a better sense of belonging – even if it is a future rife with pandemics. It must also involve civil society in shaping policy direction and alignment of values, however uncomfortable they may be to those in power.

ASEAN must uphold human rights during virus crisis (March 2020)
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, together with 35 civil-society organizations, is gravely concerned over the lack of a human-rights focus in the current response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic by the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). We call upon ASEAN member states to place human rights and dignity as the core principles in addressing the pandemic, specifically by ensuring that any public health measures are taken in alignment with international human-rights law and standards to ensure accountability and transparency in the handling of the situation.

ASEAN Summit, other meetings postponed (March 2020)
The two-day 36th Asean Summit scheduled for April 8 in Vietnam has been postponed until the end of June over fears about the Covid-19 pandemic.

No room for civil society groups at ASEAN Summit (June 2019)
ASEAN civil society groups and representatives of people’s organisations will once again be denied an interface meeting with leaders during the 34th summit in Bangkok. Though they will not be permitted to discuss issues with leaders of Asean nations, the groups may be allowed to meet with senior officials of Asean, Foreign Ministry director-general of Asean Affairs, Suriya Chindawongse, said.

As ASEAN chair, Thailand must support states to address regional rights issues (December 2018)
As the 2019 chair of ASEAN, Thailand hopes to push an agenda focused on economic cooperation and regional security. But to succeed at either of these, ASEAN must first find a way to address glaring rights abuses in its member states.

ASEAN peace registry to advance women, security in the region (December 2018)
Around 60 women leaders from the ASEAN member-states gathered in Mactan Island, Cebu, on December 13 to share their narratives, knowledge, and experiences in gender mainstreaming as well as hone women’s capacities in their respective countries to contribute in building sustainable peace within the ASEAN. A fruit of the partnership between the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the ASEAN Women, the “Symposium on the Establishment of the ASEAN Women for Peace Registry (AWPR)” included topics on the role of women in peace and security, women’s achievements, and the promotion of respect for human dignity and human rights under the context of peace reconciliation and conflict resolution.

ASEAN Parliamentarians and civil society call for greater regional refugee protection (September 2018)
This week, ASEAN parliamentarians, lawmakers and refugee experts have convened in the Philippines for a series of refugee forums. Aimed at fostering an exchange of knowledge and regional perspectives on the refugee situation across Southeast Asia, more than a dozen Philippines MPs from across the political spectrum are expected to attend both forums.

Singapore’s ASEAN Chairmanship: What’s on the Security Agenda? (April 2018)
Though Singapore is no stranger to taking a leadership role in advancing security issues among Southeast Asian states, there has been additional spotlight on the city-state as this year’s holder of the ASEAN chair. Though meetings will continue to take place throughout the year, the next key event will be the 32nd ASEAN Summit set to take place at the end of this month.

Civil society leaders push for peoples’ participation in development talks (March 2018)
Isra Sunthornvut, Secretary General of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) on March 3 signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bangkok-based NGO, Freeland, to formally recognize their joint effort to fight human trafficking in Southeast Asia. Their team of law enforcement, development and communications specialists work alongside partners in Asia, Africa and the Americas to build capacity, raise awareness, strengthen networks and promote good governance to protect critical ecosystems and vulnerable people.

Civil society leaders push for peoples’ participation in development talks (November 2017)
A group of Southeast Asian socio-civic leaders said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Manila failed to deal with the real problems of the region and foster “genuine participation” of the region’s peoples in development.

People-centred ASEAN: not quite there (October 2017)
ASEAN started as a sub-regional grouping among non-communist states, but its evolution has been driven more by pragmatism than ideology. The Bangkok Declaration confirmed that philosophy by opening membership to all South East Asian states subscribing to ASEAN’s purposes and principles. ASEAN nevertheless had to wait until the end of the Cold War to complete its South East Asian footprint, with the admission of Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999. Over the past decade, ASEAN has been trying to connect to the grassroots through consultation and engagement, especially with business people and civil society organisations, to get their views and feedback on making regional policy. However, many such consultations still focus more on form than substance.

AICHR organizes Judicial Colloquium on the Sharing of Good Practices on International Human Rights Law (June 2017)
The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission of Human Rights (AICHR) organized the first-ever AICHR Judicial Colloquium on the Sharing of Good Practices regarding International Human Rights Law from March 13-15, 2017 at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. The objectives of the Colloquium, amongst others, were to encourage greater peer-to-peer interaction, share good practices and challenges in the implementation of international human rights laws and to strengthen judicial co-operation between relevant stakeholders.

Civil society Groups push for Asean human rights court (April 2017)
Civil society organizations across Southeast Asia called on their governments to prepare the ground for the establishment of an independent regional court to promote and protect human rights and prosecute abuses by member states. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Civil Society Conference (ACSC) said it was time for the regional bloc to create its own human rights court, especially since governments in the region were “installing laws and committing actions that continue to destroy the enabling environment for civil society organizations and grassroots organizations.”

Waiting for Duterte to take the reins at Asean (November 2016)
As the new chair of the group, Duterte must represent Asean and a forceful and unified voice. He will have to preside over a dozen summits that he cannot miss next year. There will be two Asean summits – the 30th and 31st – held separately during 2017. The first in Manila in April will be with his Asean colleagues, then the second will take place at Clark Air Base on Luzon Island in early November. The latter will involve a dozen related summits between Asean and its dialogue partners, including the United Nations. Meetings with major powers, particularly with China and the US, will be among the most important functions.

Lao Government Muted Representatives to ASEAN People’s Forum (August 2016)
Laos’ representatives attending a meeting of civil society organizations that is held each year during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit said little about human rights issues inside their own authoritarian country because they were selected by the government in Vientiane. While the ASEAN People’s Forum is designed to highlight human-rights issues in the 10 countries that make up ASEAN, the Lao government made sure that rights criticisms of that country were kept to a minimum by hand-picking the Lao civil society representatives attending the forum, according to the sources.

Upcoming Asean forum must listen to Lao civil society (August 2016)
The Asean Civil Society Conference/Asean Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) which is to take place in Dili, Timor-Leste appears to be clouded by uncertainty and fears. Concerns have emerged as there have been no indications that the three-day meeting, as stated during preparatory events in March and May, can provide a safe space for Laos’ progressive and independent CSOs. At the same time, we cannot forget that this year Laos holds the chairmanship of Asean and thus has to be in the spotlight.

Three years since disappearance of Sombath, Laos fails to initiate credible investigations (December 2015)
Three years since the disappearance of leading Lao civil society activist Sombath Somphone, authorities in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic have failed to initiate a credible investigation to determine his whereabouts and the truth around his enforced disappearance. Sombath was last seen on the evening of 15 December 2012 in Vientiane. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed that police stopped Sombath’s car at a check post. Within minutes after being stopped, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove away. Analysis of the CCTV footage shows that Sombath was taken away in the presence of police officers. There has barely been any progress in the investigation in the last 3 years. Lao authorities stick to their standard response that the investigation is ‘ongoing’. However, it is quite evident from the lack of new information and unwillingness to update or cooperate with Sombath’s family that there has barely been any credible process underway. As Laos takes over as the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2016, authorities should be aware that there will be a renewed spotlight on all issues in the country.

ASEAN Civil Society Members Say They’re Ignored (November 2015)
The co-chair of the civil society forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is voicing a blunt plea to the leaders of the regional organization, saying, “Hey, take us seriously because we are serious about supporting and defending the people of ASEAN.” Jerald Joseph and other top representatives of the ASEAN civil society conference and ASEAN People’s Forum vented their frustration at a news conference attended by only a handful of the hundreds of reporters accredited to the 27th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur. “We are your people … we are not imported. We live here. We breathe daily the issues. We struggle trying to fight for our rights,” Joseph said to the reporters in the hope they would relay the message to the ASEAN leaders who have rebuffed their requests for meetings.

Evaluating Malaysia’s ASEAN chairmanship (November 2015)
Malaysia ended its chairmanship of ASEAN as the grouping announced the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in November 2015. Malaysia is one of a few ASEAN countries that have pushed most strongly for initiatives to enhance intraregional economic cooperation. But there may be cause for disappointment in what Malaysia has achieved as ASEAN’s chair. While ASEAN has announced that it has achieved more than 90 percent of targets, this does not appear to have brought many tangible benefits for either the region’s business community or ordinary people.

Laos Refuses to Host Meeting of ASEAN Civil Society Groups (October 2015)
Laos will not host a meeting of civil society organizations (CSO) in Southeast Asia on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit in 2016, a local official said, citing potential criticism by participants against governments in the region and inadequate resources as among reasons for the decision. Phil Robertson, Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said he believed the meeting was canceled because the Lao authorities are unwilling to provide space for the open discussion of politically sensitive subjects.

Asean civil society want more meetings with leaders (April 2015)
Asean civil society organisations want an institutional framework for engagement with their governments and leaders post-2015. Representatives of civil societies from the 10 member countries who had an interface meeting with their heads of government at the Asean summit said they were happy to be given the opportunity to speak directly to the leaders. “It was a very brief meeting, but it’s good that we were able to speak directly to the governments, and openly.” However, from 2016 onwards, there has to be an institutional and people-centred framework for engagement. At present, some governments aren’t allowing civil societies to represent them,” said Asean Peoples Forum steering committee chairman Jerald Joseph.

Civil society demands for better acknowledgement from Asean (February 2015)
A regional civil society organisation wants the governments of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to seriously acknowledge its recommendation, analysis and issues raised in addressing the plight of the common people. The Regional Steering Committee of Asean Civil Society Conference/Asean People’s Forum 2015 (ACSC/APF 2015) chairman Jerald Joseph said Malaysia could play the role to further improve the situation as it is now the current Asean chairman. “We hope we can find more dialogue space with Asean bodies … the Malaysian government must use this opportunity to provide immediate changes to the situation,” he told a press conference. He said although civil society organisations had countless time submitted their recommendations to Asean governments, many did not give enough attention.

Laos Tries But Fails to Make ASEAN NGOs Ignore Plight of Missing Activist (March 2015)
Lao activists are crying foul at an attempt by their government to cover the disappearance of the country’s most prominent civil society leader from the list of regional human rights issues to be discussed on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Malaysia next month. The activists say a retired Lao government official served as a proxy for the authoritarian government in Vientiane and lobbied the ASEAN People’s Forum to erase the name of Sombath Somphone, a prominent civil rights leader who has been missing for more than two years, from a list of human rights and governance problems in Southeast Asia. Lao officials have yet to state a reason for his disappearance or make any progress in the case.

Malaysia as ASEAN Chair in 2015: What To Expect (November 2014)
On November 13, at the close of the 25th ASEAN Summit in Naypyidaw, Myanmar president Thein Sein handed the ceremonial chairman’s gavel to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, marking the official handover of the annual rotating ASEAN chair from Myanmar to Malaysia for 2015. Malaysia’s overall theme for its chairmanship is “Our People, Our Community, Our Vision,” reflecting its leadership’s focus on “bringing ASEAN closer to the people” as Najib succinctly put it. Some are quick to dismiss this as laughable, noting that Southeast Asia continues to be dominated by authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes, and that Malaysia’s own ruling party lost the popular vote in the country’s last election in 2013.

News Archive

Largest-ever ASEAN civil society conference urges regional governments to establish human rights protection mechanisms (April 2014)

Timor-Leste’s Road to ASEAN (February 2014)


Controversial ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights endorsed (November 2012)

ASEAN needs formal civil society engagement mechanism on human rights (November 2012)

ASEAN leaders adopt lame-duck rights declaration (November 2012)

Najib signs ASEAN’s first human rights convention (November 2012)

Civil society rejects flawed ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (November 2012)

Cambodia disrupting civil society events and restricting freedom of assembly ahead of ASEAN Summit (November 2012)

UN Human Rights chief calls for review of ASEAN draft human rights declaration (November 2012)

ASEAN backs Vietnam’s bid for UN Human Rights Council in 2014 (October 2012)

AICHR meeting on the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (September 2012)

Southeast Asian civil society groups call for improvements to Internet governance (August 2012)

Civil society organizations meet ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (June 2012)

ASEAN civil society under stress (May 2012)

Total reform is needed to make AICHR independent, effective and relevant to the ASEAN peoples (April 2012)

Civil society excluded from drafting process for historic ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (April 2012)

Activists call for delay in Myanmar’s ASEAN chairmanship (October 2011)

CSOs ‘pleased’ with meeting with ASEAN leaders (May 2011)

RI should use Asean chair term to promote rights: NGO (January 2011)

Working to build an image for new Asian rights group (November 2010)

Southeast Asian NGOs give the ASEAN Human Rights body a failing mark as 17th ASEAN Summit starts (October 2010)

ASEAN seen failing on human rights at Hanoi summit (October 2010)

FIDH banned from attending the ASEAN People’s Forum in Vietnam (September 2010)

AICHR drafts Rules of Procedure and Five-Year Work Plan (July 2010)

Indonesia to assume ASEAN chair in 2011 (July 2010)

ASEAN labour ministers to foster closer cooperation with civil society (June 2010)

Regional consultation on Rules of Procedure of AICHR (February / March 2010)