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5 – 11 May: Government Leaders Not Ready for Genuine People-centered ASEAN

May 13, 2014

ACSC_APF_2014As the leaders of the governments of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered in Burma for the 2014 summit over the weekend, Cambodian, Malaysian and Singaporean leaders refused to meet with genuine civil society representatives. These three ASEAN member states were poised to substitute the Interface Delegates chosen by civil society groups with their own nominees, which lead the meeting between the ASEAN leaders and civil society representatives to be canceled at the last minute. The ten Interface Delegates were chosen by civil society groups to represent the voices of the 3,000 people who attended the historic ASEAN Civil Society Conference / ASEAN Peoples’ Conference 2014 (ACSC/APF 2014) held in Rangoon, Burma in March.

In addition, this was the first time that the ASEAN summit provided a space for the ASEAN Youth Forum (AYF) to share the voices of the ASEAN youth. However, mirroring the impertinent substitution of the ACSC/APF 2014 Interface Delegates, only six out of 20 delegates from the AYF were accepted to attend the meeting with the heads of government, while the government selected the other 14 youths.

According to the press release by the ACSC/APF 2014 Regional Steering Committee, the ACSC/APF 2014 stayed flexible with their governments, even going so far as to accept that some delegates chosen by civil society could be rejected by governments, as long as the seats of those rejected will remain vacant. Despite letters and multiple communications with the government expressing their grave concern over the non-approval and substitution of the 3 civil society Interface Delegates – a clear breach of ACSC/APF
principles of self-selection and mutual respect – and reiterating the four principles of the ACSC/APF 2014, the government leaders insisted on the substitution. In addition, the ASEAN Affairs Department of the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that had been coordinating the Interface Meeting informed the Interface Delegates that only the Myanmar delegate will be allowed to speak for 10 minutes out of 30 minutes total allocated for the Interface, undermining the principle of meaningful dialogue.

This pervasive attempt to replace civil society Interface Delegates has taken place almost every year since the inception of ACSC/APF in 2005. In 2009 in Thailand, the governments rejected the Interface Delegates from Burma, Cambodia and Singapore, prompting a solidary walkout by civil society groups. These three countries were rejected again in Indonesia in 2011, but the Interface was carried out with the government-substituted representatives taking the seats in place of genuine civil society groups. In addition, the topic during the Interface was limited to a single issue, health. This Interface in Indonesia was the last Interface held between ASEAN governments and civil society groups. While the government showed the same patterns of imposing their own nominees this year, the fact that such substitution has to occur almost every year also validates the strong existence of independent CSO and peoples’ movement in ASEAN.

Cambodian civil society has been outraged by the substitution and has called for the government to explain the reasons behind the rejection of Ms. Thida Khus, Executive Director of SILAKA, as their Interface Delegate. Malaysian CSOs have also called for an explanation, appalled at the rejection and substitution of their Interface Delegate.

It was during the 2005 ASEAN Leaders’ Summit in Malaysia that ASEAN recognized the first ASEAN civil society conference, which highlighted the crucial role that civil society plays in developing a people-centered ASEAN. Nine years later, the Malaysian government has taken a step back in actualizing this vision by rejecting their delegate. In addition, the substitution of Ms. Maria Chin Abdullah, Executive Director of Malaysia’s civil society organization, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER), clearly shows their stance on the upcoming ACSC/APF, as she will chair the civil society conference in 2015 to be held in Malaysia. If ASEAN is serious about creating a people-oriented ASEAN as stated in the ASEAN Charter Article 1.13, the governments of Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore must provide an immediate explanation as to their decision to substitute the chosen civil society delegates.

Interface Meetings have provided space for civil society groups to engage with ASEAN leaders. Rejecting the interface delegates entails that respective governments do not recognize the national democratic procedure within CSOs, meant to ensure meaningful dialogue with mutual respect and the rights of CSO’s to represent the peoples’ voice. Moreover, it shows disregard for the voices of the 3,000 civil society members who attended the ACSC/APF 2014. The governments of ASEAN must be transparent, demonstrate mutual respect, and follow through on their promise of self-determination by allowing genuine civil society to partake in future Interface Meetings. Otherwise, the Interface will be a mere publicity stunt for ASEAN and a smokescreen for issues that needs to be urgent addressed.

News Highlights

Democratic Party of Arakan and National United Party of Arakan reach agreements with Burma government to join the nationwide peace process

Inside Burma

USDP and NLD finalise strategies for the by-elections due later this year

The 88 Generation Peace, Open Society and Karen National Union agree to cooperate in pushing for reform of Burma’s 2008 Constitution, while working toward an end to civil conflict in the country while Aung San Suu Kyi holds a rally in the Irrawaddy delta to show public support for constitutional amendments and The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society sends a letter to President Thein Sein and the United Nationalities Federal Council, urging them to increase ceasefire talks

Minister of immigration and population says recent fighting in Kachin state and Northern Shan State is not linked to census-taking, despite an increase in the security personnel heightening tensions and the census in Arakan State will continue until the end of May, in an attempt to count Muslim populations that were excluded from last month’s tally

Burma Military Affairs Security along with police raids Restoration Council of Shan State’s liaison office in Keng Tung, Eastern Shan State, and Burma Army arrests and tortures Shan leader

In Kachin State, Burma Army enters IDP camp and detains 14 people while armed clashes between the Burma Army and the KIA continue as fighting between Burma army and KIA  occurs for nearly the whole day at Kyauk Pya in south eastern Kachin and United Nationalities Federal Council opens an office for its “Federal Union Army” in Kachin State in hopes of paving the way for involvement of ethnic fighters in national armed forces

Ta’ang National Liberation Army claims they killed at least 3 soldiers and destroyed two trucks in a conflict with Burma Army in Kunlong Township, northern Shan State

Two farmers hospitalized in a violent clash with police over land dispute

Burma authorities deport Australian DVB journalist for a demonstration calling for the release of a jailed DVB reporter


Burma outlines economic challenges on agenda ahead of ASEAN summit and At the ASEAN summit in Nay Pyi Taw, Burma, Asean leaders recognise the urgency of the successful establishment of the Asean Community by 2015

Survey of Asian businesses finds that seventy percent are looking to invest in Burma

Officials from the Thai and Burmese labor ministries agree to implement additional measures to protect Burmese migrant workers in Thailand

Perlis Anti-Smuggling Unit (UPP) detains 101 illegal immigrants from Burma for attempting to enter the country illegally in Kuala Perlis, Malaysia


Yanghee Lee, a child psychologist from South Korea, to take over Tomas Ojea Quintana as United Nations Special Rapporteur to Burma

Karen National Union Official wants Japan to consult on any development planned for Karen State


Is Britain’s Honeymoon With Burma’s President Over?
By Mark Farmaner
The Huffington Post

Is Rohingya Genocide In Burma Being Ignored ?
By Tun Khin
The Huffington Post

Why did Burma Deport a Journalist Reporting on Press Freedom?
By Francis Wade
Asian Correspondent

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Myitsone marchers reach Katha district, Sagaing Region on Tuesday, after two months of walking across the country caling for the complete suspension of the Myitsone hydroelectric dam project in Kachin State while Activists in Pegu Region swim across the Irrawaddy River and back again in protest, calling for the complete cancellation of the Myitsone Dam and Former political prisoners also stage a protest for an end to Myitsone Dam project

200 protesters march in support of press freedom, exactly one month after a court sentenced DVB video journalist to one year in prison

Statements and Press Releases

Burma: Letter to President Obama on Continuing National Emergency
By 29 Civil Society Organizations

Statement of Women’s Groups and CSOs on Preparation of Draft Interfaith Marriage Law
By 97 Women Groups Networks and Civil Society Organizations

ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum Withdraws from Interface with Heads of Government
By ACSC/APF 2014 Regional Steering Committee

ASEAN Youth Forum, in Conjunction with the ASEAN Summit 2014: “The Journey of ASEAN Youth to Naypyitaw”
By ASEAN Youth Forum 2014

Open Letter to The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Royal Government of Cambodia
By Cambodian Civil Society Working Group on ASEAN

ASEAN: Time to Get Serious about Protecting Human Rights
By International Federation for Human Rights

Burma: Open Letter to President Thein Sein on the Abolition of the Death Penalty
By International Federation for Human Rights and Altsean-Burma

Malaysian Government Undermines ASEAN Processes
By Malaysia Representatives to ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ ASEAN People’s Forum 2014

President Obama Must Renew Burma Investment Sanctions
By US Campaign for Burma


United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2014 Annual Report
By United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

This post is in: Weekly Highlights