[Jakarta, 9 May 2023] Responding to the 42nd ASEAN Summit taking place on 9-11 May 2023 in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, representatives of civil society groups (CSOs) in the ASEAN region held the Regional Strategic Gathering of ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) on May 5-7 in Jakarta. The regional strategic gathering aims to join forces urging the importance of CSOs’ participation in the agenda of Indonesia’s chairmanship in ASEAN this year. The meeting was also an avenue for CSOs to plan and strategize for the ACSC/APF 2023 conference to take place on September 1-3, 2023, ahead of the 43rd ASEAN Summit.
As an institution that claims to be “people-centered” and “people-oriented,” ASEAN has failed to address the concerns of its people, especially that of the most marginalized such as women & children, workers and migrant workers, fisher, persons with disabilities, farmers, human rights defender, LGBTQIA+ community, among others and failed to include civil society in the ASEAN agendas. It is disappointing that in the upcoming Summit, the Indonesian government, as Chair of ASEAN 2023, have also excluded the voices of the civil society, while one of the agenda includes a discussion on the development of the ASEAN community during a Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM).
Even though ASEAN has initially recognized the value and the role of ACSC/APF as shown in the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) blueprint – calling to “explore the best means for effective dialogue, consultations, and cooperation between ASEAN and ASEAN Civil Society,” room for civil society to voice concerns have been limited and shrunk. Even under Indonesia’s chairmanship to ASEAN this year, the situation is not improving.
The sidelining of CSOs’ involvement in the ASEAN Summit reflects the weakening of democracy and the shrinking civil space in the Southeast Asian region. Various assessments carried out by civil society organizations show that civic space in ASEAN countries continuously faces challenges from rising authoritarianism, militarism and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Efforts to silence the voices of the people continue. Ahead of the ASEAN Summit in Labuhan Bajo, the Indonesian police summoned two residents, Dominikus Safio and Viktor Frumentius, over a planned protest over the compensation for houses and land clearing for a road project. This incident adds to unresolved violence against civil liberties in Indonesia, including criminalizing human rights defenders Fatia Maulidiyanti and Haris Azhar. Both rights activists face criminal charges over alleged defamation against the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, just for voicing their concerns to protect the people’s fundamental right to freedom of expression in Indonesia.
Meanwhile, we continue to see brutal human rights violations in the ASEAN region. Last month, on 11 April, in Myanmar, the junta military regime launched the deadliest airstrike on civilians, killing at least 170 people when celebrating the opening of a community hall. We also see a continuing crackdown on democracy in Cambodia, where the government shut down independent media.
“This is why we, civil society groups from various SEA countries, are here today to hold hands and stand up together to defend human rights and democracy, with the spirit of solidarity in SEA,” said Daniel Awigra, Indonesia NOC Representative to Regional Steering Committee.
Only with the full participation of civil society in ASEAN’s agendas, including the civil society interface meeting agenda with ASEAN leaders, can the Summit be considered a successful step towards being a people-oriented platform. Indonesia plays a crucial role in ensuring this. As a country considered the most democratic in the region, Indonesia must guarantee freedom of expression by setting an example for other ASEAN member countries and not silencing critical voices.
Indonesia’s position as Chair of ASEAN in 2023 is also critical. It occurs amid an uphill global economic recovery post-pandemic while facing a multidimensional global crisis, including economic recession, climate injustice, and regional instability. The nature of openness in Indonesia can be an opportunity for CSOs in the region to address and voice the concerns of its people, from the suffering of the masses to that of the most marginalized communities. In sum, Indonesia plays a pivotal role in setting the process for developing key ASEAN documents, including the ASEAN Post-2025 Vision. We, as civil society, are here to stay. The Chair of ASEAN has to only genuinely accept the offer to join our collective experience and perspectives to strengthen that vision and ensure openness for all stakeholders to work together to overcome current and future challenges.
ACSC/APF 2023 Committees:
KontraS (The Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence), Fatia Maulidyanti.
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