Representatives of the ASEAN People’s Forum have expressed concerns over a rash of problems in the Southeast Asian region that seriously inhibit their dreams of society becoming “people centred.”
In a press release date April 27, following a meeting in Kuala Lumpur between civil society representatives and heads of government in the region, the APF mentions the hurdles currently faced.
Rising inequality and poverty, disappearances of human rights defenders, the acceleration of death penalty executions; the dangers of unmitigated free trade agreements; widespread corruption, increasingly fragile peace processes, the growth of religious extremism, land and natural resource grabs, the Rohingya stateless people, declining democratic practices, police brutality and unprofessional conduct continues in the region; discrimination, lack of coherent commitment to address climate change, the glorifying and strengthening of repressive colonial laws, and exploitation of migrant workers were raised April 27 in an interface between ASEAN civil society representatives and heads of government.
Only the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar accepted civil society representatives selected by participants of the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum 2015, the largest annual gathering of regional civil society. The government of Cambodia rejected the APF representative and replaced her with a government official while the government of Singapore selected its own representative on grounds that Singaporean civil society had not met the selection deadline.
APF 2015 Chairperson Mr Jerald Joseph, who delivered the statement on behalf of the civil society delegation emphasised the need for an institutional and a truly people-centered framework: “In the last 10 years since the first ACSC in Kuala Lumpur, the Interface has gone through some choppy roads and at many times been extremely disappointing by some governments ... The post 2015 vision must come up with a framework for engagement with Heads of States and Ministerial meetings, in order for us to continue engaging with ASEAN states, in a mutuality of respect from 2016 onwards.”
The civil society delegation reiterated the need for civil society and governments to work together as partners for a truly People-Centred and People-Driven ASEAN: “Don't keep us out because we present a critical and honest evaluation on what we see, hear and feel on the ground. We are convinced that being open and transparent in our analysis and proposals, is the most constructive way forward.”
After the meeting, Mr Joseph said he felt encouraged by the cordial atmosphere of the meeting, although the time allocated had been halved to 15 minutes. “The feedback from heads of government who replied to our concerns indicated that they understood the importance of engaging civil society. We hope there will be genuine progress moving forward,” he explained.
The meeting was held parallel to the 26th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur April 27 and on the resort island of Langkawi on April 28.