Foreign Affairs Training:
Table of Contents
I. Introduction to ASEAN and Member Countries
Pre-Seminar Research Assignment pg.2
Introduction to ASEAN pg.3
ASEAN Discussion Questions pg.13
ASEAN Test pg.14
Research Assignment: Southeast Asian Country Studies pg.16
II. ASEAN and Burma
History of ASEAN- Burma Relations pg.17
ASEAN-Burma Discussion Questions pg.23
Research Assignment: ASEAN Member Countries and Burma pg.24
ASEAN Simulation pg.26
III. ASEAN and Civil Society
ASEAN and the ACSC (ASEAN Civil Society Conference) pg.27
Reading Assignments on ASEAN and Civil Society pg.29
Research Assignment: Civil Society Organizations in ASEAN Member
A Training Manual on ASEAN Human Rights Mechanisms pg.33
I. Introduction to ASEAN and Member
Pre-Seminar Research Assignment
Opening research done by students as homework before the ASEAN seminar starts:
Students will (individually or in pairs) look into the history of the ASEAN members and respond
to the following two questions:
(1) What were the political situations and security issues of the founding member states in the
(2) What were the main regional issues in the 1960s?
Each group/presenter will have 3-5 minutes each to report their country situation in the 1960s.
Note: 1960s means from 1960 to 1970. ASEAN was established in the year 1967. Students in
pairs should do their research together, discuss with each other about their responses to the
questions and agree on which information to present. Students should practice the presentation
and public speaking with one with another. Single presenters do the research and presentation by
themselves, but should still ask someone to listen and watch while they practice the presentation.
Countries which become members later on:
Introduction to ASEAN
The Association of South East Asian Nations, otherwise known as ASEAN, is a regional
intergovernmental organization made up of ten nation-states: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia,
Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The organization was founded on 8 August 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore
and Thailand. Its official aims and purposes included the promotion of regional peace and
stability, and the acceleration of economic growth, social progress and cultural development.
Brunei Darussalam joined the group in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Lao PDR and Myanmar in 1997,
and Cambodia in 1999.
All of the founding countries of ASEAN, apart from Thailand, were newly established sovereign
nation-states following the period of decolonization after World War II. Subsequently, many of
these post-colonial governments faced challenges to their legitimacy to rule (challenges which
came both from within and outside the country) and governments wanted the freedom to take the
action which they deemed as necessary to establish their rule free from external interference.
The region was also experiencing inter-territorial disputes, often linked to this issue of
legitimacy. In addition, the Cold War further polarized the region with the existence of
revolutionary communist governments in Indochina, and also set the stage for Great Power
intervention in the region as America and the Soviet Union vied for influence. Subsequently, it
was security considerations which were the driving force behind the formation of ASEAN in
1967, and help to explain the determination of states to establish non-intervention and decision
by consensus as fundamental norms and principles of the organization.
Geography of Southeast Asia
Please have a look on Internet at a map of the region. Look up the country names, capital cities,
and some regions and islands of each country.
Country Capital Region/Island
Cambodia Phnom Penh
(note: under the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia was called Kampuchea)
Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Sarawak, Sabah
Indonesia Jakarta Sumatra, Aceh, Java, Bali,
Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Irian Jaya
(West New Guinea)
Brunei Bandar Seri Begawan
East Timor Dili
The Philippines Manila Luzon, Mindanao
Basic Facts about ASEAN Region
ASEAN covers an area of 4.46 million km: 2.3% of the total land area of Earth.
In 2010, its combined gross domestic product had grown to USD $1.8 trillion. (Gross
Domestic Product (GDP): the total value of goods and services produced in one year by
all the people living in a country)
If ASEAN were a single country, it would rank as the 9th largest economy in the world
and the 3rd largest in Asia in terms of nominal GDP.
The ASEAN region has a population of about 600 million, 8.8% of the world population
Uses English in official discussions.
987 ASEAN meetings in year 2011, over 1120 expected in year 2012.
65 % of the total ASEAN population is Muslim.
World’s largest Muslim nation- Indonesia. World’s most developed Muslim nation-
World’s largest Buddhist communities in Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.
Asia’s largest Christian nation, the Philippines.
ASEAN Political Landscape
From absolute (Brunei) to constitutional monarchies (Thailand).
From Burmese-style military dictatorship (currently transforming itself into hybrid semi-
authoritarian regime) to Vietnamese-style state capitalism.
From free for all Filipino democracy to one-party rule in Singapore, Cambodia.
From people’s power in Indonesia to government power in Malaysia.
Laos is a very unique hybrid.
Free, Partly Free and Not Free ASEAN Member States:
Some ASEAN countries are democracies while others are under authoritarian rule (military,
communist party, or a sultan). Some may hold elections but they are not fully free and fair,
political life is dominated by the ruling party and civil society faces a lot of restrictions.
NOT FREE: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam.
PARTLY FREE: Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, (observer: East Timor)
FREE: Indonesia, Philippines,
Establishment and Membership
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established in 1967 by five countries.
All five had anti-communist governments.
Five more countries joined later. They are:
Brunei Darussalam (1984)
In 2006, East Timor applied for membership. East Timor attends ASEAN meetings as an
observer. Sri Lanka initially wanted to become founding member but was not accepted by other
The signing ceremony of ASEAN Declaration at Saranrom Palace in Bangkok on 8 August 1967
The ASEAN Declaration states that the aims and purposes of the Association are:
1. To increase economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region.
This can be done by working together in a spirit of equality and partnership. The goal is
to create a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian nations.
2. To promote regional peace and stability through respect for justice and the rule of law
in the relationship among countries in the region and by following the principles of the
United Nations Charter.
ASEAN members signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia, at the
First ASEAN Summit in 1976. It says that member countries should deal with each other by
following these main principles:
Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and
national identity of all nations;
Right of every state to lead national existence free from external interference, subversion
Noninterference in internal affairs;
Settlement of disputes by peaceful means; Do not threaten or use force against each
Effective cooperation among members;
Decisions are made by consultation and consensus.
30 countries have already acceded to TAC (Brazil was the latest).
Q: Why does ASEAN focus on non-interference in other member states’ affairs?
A: Because at the time that ASEAN was formed, the member countries were still struggling to
hold their countries together and build their national identities. They didn’t want other
governments to encourage separatist movements or anti-government movements in their
countries. Indonesia and Malaysia had difficult relations, as did Singapore and Malaysia.
The smaller states were also worried about bigger countries using force or threats of force
against them. Each government wanted to make sure it had full sovereignty over its territory.
ASEAN members also wanted ASEAN to be a loose organization. All decisions are made by
consensus, so that no country is forced to do something it doesn’t want to do.
Most countries in ASEAN still prefer non-interference and consensus decision-making today,
because the member countries have different kinds of governments and because there is still a
lack of trust between all the members.
Deriving from its foundation, ASEAN has developed a means of functioning referred to as the
"ASEAN Way". The key characteristics of the "ASEAN Way" may be summarized as follows:
Non-interference in the domestic affairs of member states;
Decision by consensus;
Avoidance of building institutions or developing legally binding instruments which are
rigid and restrict the freedom of member states to act according to their perceived
A preference for informality, leading to non-binding declarations and plans of action.
Minimal institutionalization means that there is no ASEAN government which makes and
enforces policies in ASEAN member countries. Representatives from member countries come
together to discuss topics they are concerned about. If they all agree to make a policy on a
particular issue, that’s fine. However, there will be no punishment if countries don’t implement
This "ASEAN Way" of conducting business goes some way to explaining why ASEAN's
engagement on human rights has been limited over its 43 year history.
The most important decisions in ASEAN are made at the ASEAN Summit. This is a meeting of
the ASEAN heads of state and government. This meeting happens twice a year.
Other important decisions are made at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (Foreign Ministers).
Ministerial meetings that focus on specific topics are also held. For instance, the ministers of
agriculture and forestry from each member country will meet to discuss common problems or
concerns and promote cooperation. Ministers from each country meet on other topics such as
economics, energy, the environment, labor, law, social welfare, transnational crime,
transportation, tourism and youth.
The chairmanship of the above meetings rotates every year. If Thailand is the chair, it means
that the Thai Prime Minister will chair the ASEAN Summit meeting, the Thai Foreign Minister
will chair the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, and the various Thai ministers will chair the
There is also an AFTA Council which is working to establish free trade between ASEAN
The Secretary-General of ASEAN is appointed by the ASEAN Summit for a five year term,
selected from among nationals of the ASEAN Member States based on alphabetical rotation. The
job of the Secretary-General of ASEAN, is to initiate, advise, coordinate, and implement
ASEAN activities. The Secretary-General is based in the Secretariat office in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The Secretary-General of ASEAN 2008-2012 is Dr Surin Pitsuwan, a former Democrat Party
Foreign Minister in Thailand.
The Reform of ASEAN from 1990s Onwards
In the post-Cold War (1990s and after) international climate, the focus for ASEAN moved
increasingly away from security concerns and towards economic ones. In an increasingly
globalised world, ASEAN became concerned with creating a competitive economic bloc in the
face of challenging competition from other organizations such as the EU and NAFTA and
neighboring countries such as China and India.
The 1997 Asian financial crisis, which started in Thailand in July with the financial collapse of
the Thai baht, had a major impact on ASEAN member states. It was left to international
institutions such as the IMF to step in and offer rescue packages, which proved to be both
unpopular and ineffective. ASEAN realized that it would have to reform itself to enable the
region to be more self-sufficient in responding to future transnational financial crises.
The ASEAN Charter is a constitution for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
It was adopted at the 13th ASEAN Summit in November 2007. It has been ratified (formally
approved in each country, ie. by the Parliament) by all 10 members and it entered into force on
15 December 2008.
Why ASEAN needed the Charter:
To have a legal personality.
To ensure members implement agreements (in the past 45 years only 30 per cent of
ASEAN agreements were implemented).
To establish a timeframe for cooperation.
To end the habit of loose-talk only.
To represent new ASEAN with new structure.
Content of the ASEAN Charter:
Captures in its Preamble the history, evolution, vision, and aspiration of ASEAN, its
members and its peoples.
Spells out key ASEAN purposes and principles.
Spells out obligations and rights of individual members, collective responsibilities and
duties of members.
Creates a new and more efficient organizational structure of ASEAN in a clear
Provides for the establishment of an appropriate dispute settlement system.
Provides for more efficient resource mobilization to meet ASEAN’s growing needs.
Ensures maximum utilization of resources through efficient and transparent management.
Promotes the ASEAN identity and symbols of ASEAN, such as the flag and the emblem.
Strengthens ASEAN’s external relations to enhance the centrality of ASEAN.
Enhances forums ASEAN has initiated for dialogue and cooperation with its external
friends and partners.
Principles set out in the charter include:
Respect for the principles of territorial integrity, sovereignty, non-interference and
national identities of ASEAN members.
Promoting regional peace and identity, peaceful settlements of disputes through dialogue
and consultation, and the renunciation of aggression.
Upholding international law with respect to human rights, social justice and multilateral
Encouraging regional integration of trade.
Appointment of a Secretary-General and Permanent Representatives of ASEAN.
Establishment of a human rights body and an unresolved dispute mechanism, to be
decided at ASEAN Summits.
Development of friendly external relations and a position with the UN (like the EU).
Increasing the number of ASEAN summits to twice a year and the ability to convene for
Reiterating the use of the ASEAN flag, anthem, emblem and national ASEAN day on
Important changes compared to the previous period included:
Holding the ASEAN Summit twice a year, instead of once a year.
ASEAN Foreign Ministers will serve as the ASEAN Coordinating Council.
Single Chairmanship for key high-level ASEAN bodies.
Appointment of Member States’ Permanent Representatives to ASEAN, to form a
Committee of Permanent Representatives in Jakarta.
Establishment of an ASEAN human rights body.
The first four changes are focused on making ASEAN more effective in coordinating and
implementing policies. The last change put human rights on the ASEAN agenda, but there is no
mechanism to punish governments that abuse human rights. The Charter promises to take a
more people-centered approach to security and economic issues in ASEAN. What has not been
changed is that decisions are still be made by consultation and consensus. Also, countries are
still not be punished if they do not implement ASEAN policies and recommendations.
ASEAN Activities on Gender
In 1988, ASEAN Foreign Ministers signed the Declaration of the Advancement of Women in
ASEAN. The declaration seeks to address gender inequalities in ASEAN countries. It calls for
equal opportunities for men and women and it asks member countries to address differences in
access to health care, education, jobs, and political participation. ASEAN has been monitoring
the advancement of women in the region through occasional reports. As of 2008, three reports
have been written.
In 2004, ASEAN members signed the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against
Women in ASEAN.
The ASEAN Committee on Women (ACW) coordinates and monitors ASEAN cooperation in
women’s issues and concerns. The ACW meets regularly every year, and member countries take
turns as the ACW Chair. The ACW monitors the progress made by ASEAN member countries
in implementing or addressing key regional priorities identified in the 1998 Declaration on the
Advancement of Women and the 2004 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against
Women in ASEAN.
Some Criticisms of ASEAN
1. Many civil society groups in Southeast Asia feel that ASEAN only represents governments
and elite interests and it doesn’t really represent the people of ASEAN.
2. ASEAN is criticized for being big on words but small on action.
3. Western countries have criticized ASEAN for being too soft in its approach to protecting
human rights and democracy.
ASEAN tries to address all of these criticisms in its 2007 Charter, but implementation of the
Charter is still a work-in-progress.
Three Pillars of ASEAN
ASEAN is currently organized around three ideas: ASEAN should be a security community, an
economic community, and a socio-cultural community. More emphasis is put on the first two.
ASEAN Security Community
ASEAN should try to promote regional peace and stability by building up closer ties between the
member countries. All member countries should cooperate with each other on different issues
and try to build up mutual respect and solidarity. Member countries should have confidence in
themselves and in other member countries.
In 1992, the leaders of ASEAN member countries decided that ASEAN should work more on
building cooperative relations with other states in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1994, the ASEAN
Regional Forum (ARF) (http://www.aseanregionalforum.org ) was established.
The ARF promotes confidence-building, preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution in the
region. The ARF holds one big meeting a year for informal discussions on major regional
security issues in the region, including the relationship amongst the major powers, non-
proliferation, counter-terrorism, transnational crime, South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula,
This meeting is attended by the foreign minister of each participating country. The current
participants in the ARF include: all the ASEAN members and Australia, Bangladesh, Canada,
China, East Timor, the European Union, India, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, North Korea,
Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and the United States.
ASEAN has built cooperative ties with states in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly China,
Japan, and South Korea, who are called ASEAN’s three “Dialogue Partners”. This grouping is
called ASEAN Plus Three.
In 2004, the ASEAN plus three grouping decided to organize a new annual meeting called the
East Asia Summit (EAS). The East Asia Summit (EAS) is a forum held annually by leaders of
16 countries in the East Asian region. The EAS meetings are held once a year after the annual
ASEAN leaders’ meetings. The first summit was held in Kuala Lumpur on December 14, 2005.
Besides the 10 countries in ASEAN, six other countries participate. They are: China, Japan,
South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand. Russia has applied for membership and as of
2005, attends on observer status. The Obama administration of the United States stated that it
hopes to have some role in the future of the EAS.
Most ASEAN member countries also participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
(APEC), the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the East Asia-Latin America Forum (EALAF).
These groups mostly focus on promoting trade.
ASEAN Economic Community
When ASEAN was established, there was very little trade among the member countries. Since
then, ASEAN members have made many trade agreements to reduce tariffs on goods traded
between ASEAN countries. ASEAN is working on creating an ASEAN Free Trade Area
(AFTA). If there are no more tariffs or trade barriers then there will be greater economic
efficiency and productivity in ASEAN.
ASEAN member states have been working on increasing transportation links by building
highways and railway networks and increasing flights between their countries.
ASEAN Vision 2020. Its goal is to create a stable, prosperous and highly competitive ASEAN
economic region in which there is a free flow of goods, services, investment and a freer flow of
capital, equitable economic development and reduced poverty and socio-economic disparities in
ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community
The idea of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community is to create a community of caring societies
and founded on a common regional identity. This is a new focus for ASEAN. In the past,
ASEAN has been much more focused on regional security and economic growth.
ASEAN will work on reducing poverty and the gap between the rich and the poor. It will try to
ensure that economic growth benefits everyone. ASEAN member countries should try to raise
the standard of living of disadvantaged groups and the rural population, and should try to get all
sectors of society involved, in particular women, youth, and local communities.
ASEAN will try to make sure that workers in each country are prepared for economic integration
with other ASEAN member countries and that they will benefit from it. They should invest
more resources in basic and higher education, training, science and technology development, job
creation, and social protection.
ASEAN member countries will cooperate more on public health.
Key Documents of Reforming ASEAN
ASEAN Vision 2020: Marking ASEAN's 30th anniversary and arriving in the year of the Asian
financial crisis, this declaration has become a landmark document for ASEAN, setting the goal
of the creation of a "concert" of South-East Asian nations. This document not only mentioned
ASEAN's traditional concerns of peace and security between nations and economic
development, but also mentioned the creation of a "community of caring societies" with a "focus
on the welfare and dignity of the human person and the good of the community".
1998 - The Hanoi Plan of Action (1999-2004): This was the first plan of action which sought to
implement the 1997 ASEAN Vision 2020. It included pledges to enhance the exchange of
information amongst ASEAN countries in the field of human rights, and to implement two core
UN human rights treaties in the region; namely the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women
2003 – The Declaration of ASEAN Concord II (Bali Concord II): This declaration sought to give
a coherent structure and organization to the ASEAN Vision 2020, mapping out the creation of
three pillars for an ASEAN Community: an ASEAN Security Community (ASC), an ASEAN
Economic Community (AEC) and an ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), and again
referred to the creation of a "community of caring societies".
2004 – The Vientiane Action Program (2004-2010): Following on from the Hanoi Plan of
Action, this plan sought to continue with the goal of implementing the ASEAN Vision 2020,
including the creation of the three pillars described in the Bali Concord II. The more concrete
mentions of human rights dealt with the elaboration of an ASEAN instrument on the protection
and promotion of the rights of migrant workers and the establishment of an ASEAN commission
on the promotion and protection of the rights of women and children.
2009 - Roadmap for an ASEAN Community (2009 – 2015): In 2007 ASEAN adopted the
ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint and in 2009 adopted the ASEAN Political-Security
Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprints, which together constitute
the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community (2009-2015). This Roadmap consolidated all of the
commitments to forge a regional community which had been made by ASEAN since the original
ASEAN Vision 2020 in 1997.
Prior to the 2009 Roadmap, progress in implementing these plans, programs and declarations had
been slow. Subsequently, member states realized that they would have to compromise on
ASEAN's traditional preference for informality and aversion to institutions and legally binding
instruments in order to improve on this record of implementation and to realize the reforms that
had been committed to. ASEAN thus began to consider the drafting of a Charter, some 40 years
after its founding.
www.aseansec.org – contains basic information about ASEAN, the text of the ASEAN Charter,
and recent news about ASEAN
ASEAN Discussion Questions
To be answered in class in pairs or as homework, and reviewed in class with the teacher:
Why do you think only non-communist countries were members of ASEAN in the
ASEAN was initially established as an anti-communism security and economy
cooperation block. Why did ASEAN agree to let in Communist countries in the late
What are the main functions of ASEAN today?
What is the highest decision-making body in ASEAN?
How are decisions made in ASEAN?
Why are decisions made this way?
What are some criticisms of ASEAN?
How is the ASEAN charter trying to address these criticisms?
Do you think that ASEAN will change much in the future? If yes, why? If not, why?
What does the abbreviation ASEAN stand for? What is the full name of ASEAN?
Please name the ASEAN member states.
Please name the capital cities of the ASEAN member states.
When was ASEAN founded, and which countries were the founding members?
What were the official aims and purposes for establishing ASEAN?
What are the key characteristics of the "ASEAN Way"?
Which ASEAN countries are democracies (free), which are partly free and which are under
authoritarian rule (not free) (military, communist party, or a sultan)?
What is the highest decision making body of ASEAN, who participates in it, and how often
does that body meet?
What is the name of the current Secretary-General of ASEAN, and which country does he
come from? Where is his seat (office)?
When did the ASEAN Charter enter into force (after ratification in all 10 parliaments),
and what are the important changes it included?
What are the main criticisms of ASEAN?
Which 6 other countries participate at the East Asia Summit (EAS) besides the 10 ASEAN
Research Assignment: Southeast Asian Country Studies
Each student or pair of students should be assigned one country. They will be assigned to do
research on this country, make a PowerPoint presentation and give the presentation in class.
Students will make a PowerPoint presentation about the country with the flag, names of the head
of state and head of government, basic facts (demography, religion, economy, etc), description of
the political system, basic recent historical facts (post-WW2), some other pictures (historic and
cultural monuments etc), and important information about the current news highlights from the
country. Students and teachers will choose the three best PowerPoints and presentations.
Basic sources for students: BBC Country Profiles and Timetable, recent BBC news , CIA World
Factbook,,”Freedom in the World” book on www.freedomhouse.org (excellent source on the
government, civil/political rights), Wikipedia, Human Rights reports (Human Rights Watch,
Amnesty International), government websites of their countries, Google news, English language
media of the country (be aware whether it is from the independent media, or if it is government
controlled- directly or indirectly) .
Students will read the front page (online) of an English language newspaper from their country
and briefly summarize one article in class. The purpose is to use the newspapers to see what
issues are important to the people and to the government in that country.
The Straits Times The Manila Times
Vientiane Times http://www.inquirer.net/
INDONESIA: The Phnom Penh Post
The Jakarta Post http://www.phnompenhpost.com/
MALAYSIA: Vietnam News - state-run
The New Straits Times http://vietnamnews.vnanet.vn/
THAILAND: BruDirect - English-language news website
The Nation http://www.brudirect.com/
The Bangkok Post http://www.mizzima.com/
II. ASEAN and Burma
History of ASEAN-Burma Relations
Burma was asked in 1967 to be a founding member, but until the mid-1990s, Burma had not
expressed any interest in joining ASEAN. Burma branded ASEAN as an imperialist
organization given its principle of strict neutrality.
However, under the SLORC, Burma became interested in joining, in part to gain legitimacy in
the international community. The SLORC leaders may also have wanted to join ASEAN in
order to increase trade with their neighbors and to have more countries that would defend them
on the international stage. Due to that after 17 years of no-contact, Burma attended the 1994
ASEAN meeting as a guest of Thailand.
Burma attended the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in 1995 and the final Bangkok Declaration
mentioned 10 ASEAN countries in one “roof” which was a clear signal of the willingness of the
member states to accept Burma. Burma acceded to TAC in 1995 (Laos/VN 1992). And finally
Burma joined along with Lao PDR in 1997.
ASEAN was concerned about China’s influence over Burma and ASEAN members wanted to
balance China’s influence by integrating Burma more with countries in Southeast Asia.
Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia at the time, especially pushed for Burma to
become a member. Indonesia also strongly supported the idea. It is worth noting that that policy
fully failed. China has anyhow gained a dominant influence over Burma.
The founding members of ASEAN felt that if Burma became a member, they could persuade the
Burmese regime to act more reasonably. ASEAN’s policy toward Burma has been “constructive
engagement”. The leaders of ASEAN believe that it is not good to criticize the military regime
directly. Instead, ASEAN members can talk to the military leaders privately and persuade them
to make changes. They also thought that the military regime would be grateful to them for
allowing Burma to join ASEAN, so they would listen to them. In reality, though, Burma has not
listened to the members of ASEAN.
ASEAN came under a lot of pressure from the US and EU for allowing Burma to join. The US
and EU have also repeatedly urged ASEAN to raise human rights problems and political reform
in Burma at their annual meetings. The Burmese regime always argues that ASEAN should not
raise these issues in ASEAN meetings, because ASEAN has a policy of non-interference in
member countries’ internal affairs.
Senior leaders in Singapore and Malaysia became increasingly frustrated with the military
regime in Burma. One reason was because of the regime’s economic mismanagement and lack
of rule of law. Both countries had hoped to benefit economically through trade and investment
in Burma but found it very hard to do so. Also, the Burmese military regime continued to ignore
the international community’s concerns. In 2003, members of the regime planned the Depayin
massacre in which Aung San Suu Kyi was almost killed and many NLD members were killed.
ASEAN looked bad for having let Burma in as a member.
In 2006, it was supposed to be Burma’s turn to become the chairman of ASEAN for a year.
However, Washington and Europe threatened not to attend any ASEAN meetings hosted by
Burma, including the ASEM meeting. The United States also said it might withhold funding to
several development projects in the region if Burma became the chair. ASEAN was divided on
the issue, and couldn’t agree to forbid Burma from taking the chair. Several members made
public their hopes that the Burmese regime would decide by itself to give up the chair. Finally,
Burma did give it up, saying it wasn’t ready.
After the brutal crackdown on the 2007 monks’ demonstrations, ASEAN issued a statement
expressing its “revulsion” at what had happened. This was the strongest statement ASEAN had
ever issued on Burma.
ASEAN has supported the regime’s road map. ASEAN member states have welcomed the
elections and have expressed hope that they will bring gradual and positive change in the
direction of a more responsible and more effective government. Most ASEAN members don’t
mind if Burma does not have full democracy, but they would like to see a more responsible
government in power with better economic policies. They would like a government that is not so
repressive and one that at least looks like a representative government (some elected members,
including ethnic minorities), so that the West would stop putting pressure on ASEAN to do
something about Burma.
Aung Sann Suu Kyi’s house arrest was a key issue between ASEAN and Burma during the 18-
month Thai chair in July 2009-December 2010 as members were divided on the joint demand for
The Philippines has pushed most consistently for change in Burma. Indonesia under President
SYB has also urged Burma to follow Indonesia’s example, telling them that generals can run in
elections too. Malaysia and Singapore have become more critical of the regime in recent years.
Vietnam, Laos, and Brunei generally support the traditional ASEAN policy of staying out of
Burma’s internal affairs. Cambodia has generally taken the same position, although Hun Sen has
spoken out against the regime on a couple of occasions. Thailand’s policy has varied depending
on who the Prime Minister is.
Finally, ASEAN leaders expressed “support” for the Burma’s chairmanship in ASEAN in 2014
at the Bali summit in November 2011.
More detailed chronology of ASEAN – Burma relations
July 1997 – Burma’s entry into ASEAN
1997 – Less than a year of its membership, there is an apparent sense of mutual frustration
between SPDC (SLORC) and ASEAN; Former Philippine President Fidel Ramos publicly
expressed his hope to meet ASSK but was turned down during his visit in Oct 1997.
June 1999 – ASEAN defended the junta in denouncing the ILO’s ban on Burma’s participation
in ILO meetings and warned the WTO not to use child labor.
July 2000 – ASEAN agreed to use a troika formula to help solve increasing intimidation of
NLD; Vietnam who was chair at that time announced that it was an internal affair so no need for
Early July 2003: Thai Prime Minister Thaksin proposed a vaguely defined “roadmap” for
political transition in Burma. While UN Special Envoy Razali Ismail and a number of other
countries supported the proposal, SPDC FM Win Aung informed Thaksin that the SPDC “would
rather solve its own problems from within.”
30 July 2003: Indonesian Foreign Minister and ASEAN Chairman Hassan Wirajuda said, “We
have an assurance from Myanmar that the Suu Kyi case will be finished before the ASEAN
Summit [in October].” Wirajuda accepted the SPDC’s line that they needed a “cooling down
period” and promised that “ASEAN would continuously engage Myanmar.”
26 July 2005: At the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the SPDC announced their withdrawal from
the rotating ASEAN chairmanship. The SPDC spun the decision as homegrown and cited a need
to focus on domestic affairs. However, the move was a submission to reality as ASEAN member
states feared the fallout should the SPDC, political poison for the body and damaging to its
credibility, assume the ASEAN chair.
6 November 2005: move to Naypyidaw - Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra said that he felt
“uncomfortable” when the SPDC never informed neighbors of political developments, including
the move to a new capital.
Singapore FM George Yeo said, “If Myanmar needs time out to attend to its own domestic
preoccupations, I think we should respect it but, at the same time, the rest of ASEAN should not
be held back. I think we will have to distance ourselves a bit if it is not possible for them to
engage us in a way which we find necessary to defend them internationally.”
23 March 2006: Malaysia FM Syed Hamid Albar went to Rangoon for a 3-day official visit. But
the FM cut his trip short after being denied access to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other pro-
27 May 2006: The SPDC extended Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest for another year. On
24 July 2006, Malaysian FM Syed Hamid Albar said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “Myanmar is
seen to have failed to prove to ASEAN or the international community that it is serious and
committed to national reconciliation and democratization.”
27 Sep 2007: Expressed concerns over the brutal crackdown during the Saffron Revolution
Nov 2007 Asserted that the adoption of the ASEAN Charter is focused on the SPDC halting
human rights abuses; holding a credible constitutional referendum; engaging in genuine dialogue
for national reconciliation and democratic reform; and releasing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and
other political prisoners.
May 2008: Formed the Tripartite Core Group for humanitarian assistance to Cyclone Nargis
victims. Defended the SPDC and suggested to the UN that it could accomplish more if Daw
Aung San Suu Kyi was left off the agenda.
Sept 2008 Failed to support a UNGA Third Committee resolution over Burma’s human rights
11 Nov 2008: Remained silent after the SPDC sentenced nearly 200 pro-democracy activists to
jail terms as long as 68 years in the same month.
16 May 2009: Thai FM Kasit Piromya held a press conference on various issues on Burma;
ASSK’s health, release of all political prisoners; but would not react with sanctions. Individual
ASEAN members issued statements of concern such as Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and
19 May 2009: As Chair of ASEAN, Thailand issued statement calling for release of ASSK;
showed some teeth; although soft statement; draft prepared by Indonesia was supported by 6
members; VLM not as supportive and no outright rejection; some new members viewed the draft
statement as a violation of the non-intervention principle but at the same time recognized that the
recent act of SPDC runs counter to the terms of the charter; no consensus over the draft but
agreed that statement be issued by Thailand as chair of ASEAN
20 May 2009: Presence of ASEAN diplomats at the trial such as Singapore, Thailand,
Philippines; Singapore Amb. Robert Chua meeting with ASSK on May 20.
21 May 2009: Thai FM Kasit Piromya gave a press interview commending the SPDC for
opening the trial to diplomats and media; hoped for release of ASSK and other political
9 June 2009, Former Singapore PM Goh Chok Tong visited Burma and told SPDC Chairman Sr
Gen Than Shwe that Singapore was “dismayed by the arrest [of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi]” and
was “concerned as to what the verdict will be like and what the sentence will be like.”
On 1 June 2009, Thai FM Kasit Piromya said that political change in Burma was “very much
needed” for the stability of all neighboring countries.
On 20 July 2009, ASEAN FMs endorsed the terms of reference for the ASEAN Inter-
governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). The new body cannot investigate alleged
human rights violations or punish offending member states such as Burma.
20 July 2009, The AMM issued a 12-page Joint Report. The document urged the SPDC to hold
“free, fair and inclusive elections in 2010” and reiterated ASEAN’s calls on SPDC “to
immediately release all those under detention, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.” Thai FM
Kasit Piromya said that ASEAN cannot move forward until changes occur in Burma. ASEAN
Sec-Gen Surin Pitsuwan said that as long as Burma's political problems are not resolved,
ASEAN will continue to have a burden on its lap to explain to the world.
21 July 2009, Indonesia’s FM Hassan Wirayuda said that the SPDC must release Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi if its 2010 elections are to be credible.
5 February 2010, Philippines Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said that the SPDC’s election
would be a “farce” if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is unable to run.
9 February 2010, Malaysia FM Anifah Aman called on the SPDC to hold free, fair and an
inclusive election and to free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi so that the polls will be legitimate.
14 February 2010, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said that it was in the interests of
ASEAN to help Burma hold fair, free, and transparent elections in order to restore democracy
and peace to the country.
24 February 2010, ASEAN Sec-Gen Surin Pitsuwan said that ASEAN expected a credible and
transparent election but it could not interfere in the details of the polls.
March 2010, ASEAN remained silent about SPDC Electoral Law.
1 April 2010, Thai FM Kasit Piromya said that he was concerned about the national
reconciliation and the inclusiveness of the political process in Burma. He noted that the SPDC
electoral laws were discriminatory because they provided amnesty only to the military leadership
and not to the opposition.
7 April 2010, A petition to ASEAN leaders endorsed by 105 MPs from Cambodia, Indonesia,
Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore said that with the promulgation of “biased” election
laws, “the regime has forfeited its best opportunity to show willingness to engage in an inclusive
process of national reconciliation.”
19 July: 2010, ASEAN FMs gave SPDC FM Nyan Win an “earful” about the junta’s planned
elections. ASEAN FMs told Nyan Win that elections must be “free, fair and inclusive.” The FMs
“strongly suggested” that the SPDC consider having ASEAN observers at the elections.
20 July 2010, ASEAN Sec-Gen Surin Pitsuwan said that whatever happens in Burma will have
implications on ASEAN - positive or negative. Malaysia’s FM Anifah Aman echoed these
concerns and said that the SPDC should not only look at its own interests but that of ASEAN’s
21 July 2010, ASEAN, together with China, South Korea, and Japan (ASEAN+3) called on the
SPDC to make sure the elections were “free and fair.”
On 9 August 2010, Philippines FM Alberto Romulo said the elections would be considered a
sham if opposition members would not be allowed to participate in the process.
UNGA resolution condemns human rights abuses in Burma: On 18 November 2010, the UN
General Assembly’s Third Committee adopted a resolution on Burma by a vote of 96 to 28 with
Strongly condemned the SPDC’s ongoing systematic violations of human rights and
fundamental freedoms and urged the SPDC to conduct a transparent and independent
investigation into these abuses.
Welcomed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s release and called on the SPDC to ensure that no
restrictions are placed on the exercise of all her human rights and fundamental freedoms
in the future.
Urged the SPDC to release all other political prisoners.
Stated that the SPDC “did not take the necessary steps to ensure a free, fair, transparent
and inclusive electoral process” in the 7 November election.
Countries that voted ‘no’ included Russia, Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Brunei, China,
Laos, Mala, and Vietnam. Countries that abstained included Indonesia, the Philippines,
Singapore, and Thailand.
On 24 December 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that condemned the
SPDC’s “ongoing systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms” of the
It was the 20th resolution passed by the UNGA against Burma’s military regime since 1991. The
resolution was passed by a vote of 85-26 with 46 abstentions: ASEAN members Brunei,
Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia.
At their 15-17 January 2011, retreat in Indonesia, ASEAN FMs called for the lifting of
sanctions against Burma’s military regime. ASEAN cited the release of Daw Aung San Kyi and
the 7 November elections as reasons for countries to review their policy on existing sanctions.
However, ASEAN also called on the SPDC to initiate a process of national reconciliation with
On 16 January 2011, Indonesia’s FM Marty Natalegawa said, “there needs to be reconciliation
and dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and various parties in Myanmar so they can be part of the
change in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi's release and the elections weren't enough.”
On the same day, ASEAN Sec-Gen Surin Pitsuwan said other state leaders would like to have
more access to Burma, particularly to its opposition parties.
On 18 April 2011, ASEAN Sec-Gen Surin Pitsuwan said that the regime’s desire to hold the
ASEAN Chair in 2014 may well be determined by whether the US will accept such a move.
June 2011, ASEAN States praised Burma during the Burma UPR session in Geneva.
October 2011, Indonesia FM Marty Natalegawa visited Burma. Indonesia was the acting
ASEAN Chair at that moment.
In November 2011, ASEAN leaders expressed “support” for Burma’s chairmanship in ASEAN
in 2014 at the Bali Summit.
In December 2011, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa urged Burma to allow a free
and fair by-election, to make peace with ethnic minorities, to release all remaining political
prisoners, and to further continue its democratization process. Indonesia volunteered to offer
advice from the Election Commission of Indonesia, the National Human Rights Commission of
Indonesia and the Indonesian Institute of Science to establish contact and cooperation with their
counterparts in Burma.
24 December 2011, ASEAN States voted against and abstained on the UNGA Resolution on
Burma in 2011 (Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam were against)
In January 2012, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said. “Myanmar’s FM has
requested ASEAN to call for the lifting of economic sanctions against Myanmar.”
On 17 January, the Philippines called on the global community to lift sanctions on Burma.
ASEAN-Burma Discussion Questions
Why did ASEAN allow Burma to join in 1997?
Was that the right decision? Why or why not?
Why are some ASEAN members unhappy with the Burmese military regime?
What has changed and why did ASEAN leaders finally decide to support the Myanmar
chairmanship in 2014?
Was that the right decision? Why or why not?
Research Assignment: ASEAN Member States and Burma
Students will be assigned to do research on an ASEAN country’s policy toward Burma and why
each country has this policy. The assigned student or students should fill out the information on
the worksheet for their country. They will need to do research for this. They can do an online
search typing “country name and Burma” and “country name and Myanmar” plus “trade” or
“foreign policy”, etc.
After the research, students will do a presentation in the class. The assigned student(s) will go
through their answers to each question on the worksheet and the other students will write in the
answers. Students can ask questions and the teacher should add info/correct any misinformation
as appropriate. The teacher could give the students a quiz on this to make sure the students are
really paying attention to all the countries and not just their own.
The objective of this exercise is for students to understand ASEAN and its member countries’
policies toward Burma and to develop ideas about how they and their colleagues could try to
affect policy in each of these countries. By the end of the exercise, students should be able to
1. What are the policies of ASEAN and its member countries toward Burma?
2. Why do they have these policies? (What background information do you need to know
about their interests and their domestic politics?)
3. How might the Burmese democracy movement try to work with the government and/or
other political and civic groups in each of these countries to achieve policies you prefer?
COUNTRY POLICY ON BURMA WORKSHEET
Type of Government:
Head of State:
Head of Government:
1. What are the main foreign policy concerns for this country?
2. Is Burma a main concern for this country or not?
3. Does it have any borders with Burma? (if so, is it worried about border security?)
4. Does it have any trade with or investment in Burma? (if so, a little or a lot, and what kind
of trade or investment)
5. What kind of government does this country have? Does that affect its policy toward
Burma? (especially whether it strongly follows the ASEAN policy of non-interference in
member countries’ affairs)
6. Does it have any other interests that might affect its policy toward Burma? (ie. does this
country care about human rights or drug trafficking)
7. Does it have any cultural or religious links with communities in Burma?
8. What has the head of government or foreign minister said about Burma?
9. What is this country’s foreign policy on Burma?
10. If you were lobbying the head of government or foreign minister in this country, what
issues would you focus on?
11. Are there any opposition parties or opposition politicians that might be supportive?
12. Are there any types of NGOs in this country that might be supportive? (ie. human rights,
Chart of Country Policies on Burma
Fill in the chart below with the policies of different ASEAN governments toward Burma and
very brief reasons why.
Here is what you might write for Brunei
Country Name Policy Why
Brunei Don’t criticize regime Authoritarian Gov., no trade
Go along with ASEAN with Burma, not a big
policy player in ASEAN
Students will do a simulation exercise of an ASEAN heads of state/government or foreign
minister’s meeting. Some students will represent “their” countries, ASEAN member states, and
one student will represent Burma (Myanmar). Other students will represent EU, US and civil
society groups. They will not participate in decision making, but they will have an opportunity to
do the lobbying. The debate will be about Myanmar’s bid to hold the ASEAN chairmanship in
Opportunities for civil society of Burma being chair:
Regional friends have more understanding of the issues and concerns inside Burma;
Increased cooperation among NGOs and other networks;
More opportunity to shed light on human rights violations in Burma;
Opportunity to organize and mobilize among the CSOs in Burma and the general public will
become more aware of the situation because of increased visitors;
Opportunity for awareness raising among the general public to become more politically
aware, and become more actively involved in the nation’s political life;
More chance for people to have more information;
More chance to inform the general public of what ASEAN is and what roles the Burmese
people can play during the chairmanship;
Chance to push further the agenda of democracy and human rights as Myanmar will be very
conscious of its image in the international arena;
Chance to get in touch with the regional and international media organizations;
Better collaboration among the local Burmese CSOs for ACSC/APF.
Possibility of restrictions of regional CSOs in 2014;
Deception by the government that now they are doing good things as they are recognized
by the international community;
2008 Constitution will be more difficult to challenge because of the international and
regional organizations’ recognition of Myanmar as chair of ASEAN;
Possibility of more GONGOs to be involved in the ACSC process;
With the recognition of Myanmar it may lead to more human rights violations as it will
embolden them, there might be other forms of human rights violations like the ones
brought by big international development projects;
Window dressing representation of civil society, other legitimate organizations may not
be represented; increase conflict between peoples, civil society and government NGOs;
Information channel might be cut down and more surveillance on CSOs;
ODA, AID might lead to creation of more NGOs that will not focus on democracy and
human rights agenda and will just focus on other ‘soft issues’.
III. ASEAN and Civil Society
ASEAN and the ACSC (ASEAN Civil Society Conference)
Introduction: How Did it All Begin?
Civil society has not always a key component in the decision-making history of the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Apart from the well-known exclusive nature of the
Association’s policy-making processes, there was also relatively little interest shown on the part
of civil society to engage with ASEAN. In those early years of ASEAN Cooperation, the
grouping was seen strategic for the region’s political elites, but far from meaningful in the eyes
of many civil society groups, partly because of the relatively slow integration process, and partly
also because of the perceived inability of the Association to advance these actors’ agenda and
All this, however, has changed dramatically in recent years. Not only is there now an emerging
interest by civil society organisations (CSOs) to engage with ASEAN, but there is also a relative
increase of openness shown by the Association and some of its member countries to allow the
participation of wider stakeholders in their decision-making processes.
Amongst other things, ASEAN’s key objective of becoming a single community, known as the
ASEAN Community, in 2015, has given a new sense of direction, not only for the Association,
but also for all keen advocates of ASEAN integration in the region, including civil society
groups. As part of its commitment to form a single community by 2015, ASEAN had also put
into force the ASEAN Charter, which serves as the legal and institutional framework for the
Association to achieve its goals and objectives, at the end of 2008. These two developments
helped transform ASEAN as a worthy platform from which civil society can influence policies at
the regional level.
From 2005 on civil society groups began to put their act together to begin seeking direct access
to ASEAN policy-making circle. Amongst some of the most pronounced civil society-led
initiatives to engage ASEAN was the establishment of an annual civil society gathering under the
ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC). The ACSC is one of the key platforms which civil
society uses to exchange ideas and advance their input to ASEAN leaders and relevant policy-
The ACSC in the Making
Although widely known as a civil society-led forum, the ACSC was actually initiated by the
Government of Malaysia. Whilst chairing ASEAN in 2005, the Government of Malaysia
commissioned the ASEAN Study Centre of the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) to organise a
civil society event parallel to the 11th ASEAN Summit on December 2005. The ASEAN
Secretariat eventually supported the ACSC, and a number of Malaysian-based non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) were also involved in the preparation and implementation of the event.
The importance of the ACSC was not only because it was a forum that helped to consolidate
CSOs positions on major regional issues and agenda, but they were able to do so through a direct
interface with ASEAN leaders during the ASEAN Summit.
Early in the following year, in February 2006, a strategic action planning for advocacy meeting
was organised by several NGOs in Bangkok, which subsequently resulted in the establishment of
the Solidarity for Asian Peoples’ Advocacies (SAPA), which is an open platform for
consultation, cooperation and coordination amongst Asian social movements and CSOs.
SAPA aims to enhance cooperation amongst its members and partners to increase the impacts
and effectiveness of their engagement with inter-governmental bodies, including ASEAN. Since
then, one of SAPA’s Working Groups that work on ASEAN and its regional and national CSO
members have always been behind the organisation of the following ACSCs.
The Diversity of ACSC Organizations
The annual organisation of the ACSCs was not always smooth, with the regional and the national
host organisers always confronted with various challenges, ranging from the issue of broad
participation to political dynamisms and diverse opinions and perspectives that emerged between
the government and the CSOs, as well as those that exist amongst the CSO community.
For instance, ensuring the participation of civil society groups from all ten member countries of
ASEAN and across all sectors (e.g. human rights, environment, gender, trade / investment
(economics), humanitarian and so on) was always a challenge for the organisers of the ACSCs.
Managing the expectations from various civil society groups, and often governments, coming
from diverse political systems and democratisation levels was not so easy to handle. In fact,
‘civil society’ was not even considered as an appropriate, or politically correct, term in some
ASEAN member countries.
Civil Society Organization List:
1. South East Asian Committee for Advocacy, Seaca (www.seaca.net)
2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Forum Asia (www.forum-asia.org)
3. Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, HREIB (www.hreib.com)
4. Cambodian Human Rights and development Association, ADHOC (www.adhoc-
5. Cambodia League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, LICADHO
6. Suara Rakyat Malaysia, SUARAM (www.suaram.net)
7. Philippines Alliance of Human Rights Advocacy, PAHRA (www.philippinehumanrights.org)
8. Think Center (thinkcenter.org)
9. People's Empowerment (www.peoplesempowerment.org)
10. Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, Altsean-Burma (www.altsean.org)
11. Burma Partnership (www.burmapartnership.org)
12. NGO Resource Centre Vietnam, VUFO (www.ngocentre.org.vn)
13. Aliansi Jurnalis Indonesia, AJI (www.ajiindonesia.org)
14. Inisiatif Masyarakat Partisipatif untuk Transisi Berkeadilan, IMPARSIAL
15. Sekretariat Anak Merdeka Indonesia, Yayasan SAMIN (www.yayasan-samin.org)
16. Komisi untuk orang Hilang dan korban tindak kekerasan, KontraS (www.kontras.org)
17. Kalyanamitra (www.kalyanamitra.or.id)
18. Solidaritas Perempuan (www.solidaritasperempuan.org)
19. Institute for Esential Service Reform, IESR (www.iesr-indonesia.org)
20. Pusat telaah dan informasi regional, Pattiro (www.pattiro.org)
21. Asosiasi Serikat Pekerja Indonesia, Aspek-Indonesia (www.aspekindonesia.org)
22. Koalisi Rakyat untuk Keadilan Perikanan, KIARA (www.kiara.or.id)
23. Human Rights Working Group, HRWG (www.hrwg.org)
ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC): http://www.aseancivilsociety.net/
Reading Assignments on ASEAN and Civil Society
Current debate at the Jakarta ASEAN Summit:
Burma Representatives Attend Regional Civil Society Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia
By Burma Partnership | May 2, 2011
This coming week, eighteen representatives from Burma’s independent civil society will be
participating in the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum 2011
(ACSC/APF) and associated events in Jakarta, Indonesia.
This is an important venue for Burma advocates to raise concerns about the human rights
violations and the lack of genuine democratization, and to call on the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN) to take concrete action on Burma.
The ACSC/APF is organized as a parallel process to the ASEAN Summit, which brings together
Southeast Asian leaders to discuss economic and political developments in the region. Members
of civil society from throughout ASEAN participate in the conference to exchange ideas on a
variety of issues and ultimately present recommendations to ASEAN leaders and policy-makers.
This year, keynote speeches will be delivered by Indonesia’s Vice President H. E. Dr. Boediono
and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi via pre-recorded video.
The delegation, which includes members of the Task Force on ASEAN and Burma (TFAB), has
organized a workshop and press conference to raise awareness about the lack of genuine political
change since the November 2010 elections, the escalating armed conflict in Eastern Burma, and
ongoing human rights violations throughout the country. The workshop will address the regional
ramifications of the situation in Burma, and will seek to develop linkages and common strategies
amongst civil society from ASEAN.
The delegation will also be collecting signatures for a letter writing campaign addressed to
ASEAN foreign ministers appealing to national governments to support the call for a UN-led
Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.
Representatives from the major political alliances of the movement for democracy and rights of
ethnic nationalities in Burma will also be meeting with Indonesian parliamentarian members of
the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC).
The delegation will use these opportunities to call on ASEAN member states, and especially
Thailand, to continue to provide much-needed protection for refugees fleeing from different
forms of persecution and human rights violations.
Until the military dominated government of Burma ceases attacks on ethnic communities, halts
human rights violations, releases all political prisoners, and engages in dialogue with ethnic and
democratic forces, it is not deserving of the ASEAN chairmanship in 2014. ASEAN must ensure
that all member states adhere to the principles of democracy and human rights as that are
enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, starting with Burma.
Burmese Civil Society Groups Face Impasse at Asean Summit
By Irrawaddy, May 4, 2011
A delegation of civic groups from inside Burma that are backed by the government and a
separate delegation of independent pro-democracy groups from outside Burma were unable to
agree on who would represent the combined groups at the May 7 interface meeting with
Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia.
“They were supposed to choose last night, but the delegation from inside Burma and the pro-
democracy delegation were not able to come to an agreement. So no country representative was
chosen,” said Jessica Stevens, Media and Communications Officer for Burma Partnership in
The inside civic groups nominated Burmese Police Col. Sit Aye, a member of the Legal
Advisory Board and representative of the Anti-Narcotics Association. The outside groups
nominated Aung Myo Min, the director of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma and
coordinator of the Task Force on Asean and Burma.
Khin Ohmar, the vice-chair of the Burmese Women’s Union in exile and the Coordinator of
Burma Partnership in Jakarta, said that nobody from the independent groups would accept a
representative chosen by the Burmese government.
Suntaree Saeng-ging, the secretary-general of the Thai NGO Coordinating Committee, said that
if the Asean governments insisted on sending their own nominated representatives to replace
those selected by the independent civic groups, the independent groups would boycott the
interface meeting, according to the Bangkok Post, an English language Thai newspaper.
In addition, while independent NGOs from Cambodia proposed Thun Saray, the chairman of the
Cambodia Human Rights and Development Association, as their representative, the Cambodian
government is trying to choose its own representative.
The Asean Civil Society Conference/Asean People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) steering committee
believes that representatives of civil society should be independent voices on behalf of the people
rather than representatives from government-backed organizations.
In the past, however, representatives from outside Burma have been denied the chance to meet
with Asean leaders in the formal meeting.
At the 14th Asean Summit in Thailand, Khin Ohmar and a Cambodian activist were not allowed
to participate in the civic forum with Asean leaders because Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein
Sein and Cambodia’s Hun Sen threatened at the time to boycott the meeting if the two activists
were allowed to take part.
Eighteen representatives from Burma’s civil society that operate outside the country, including
members of the Task Force on Asean and Burma, are participating in the 6th ACSC/APF.
The conference, organized as a parallel process to the Asean Summit, is a platform to exchange
ideas and provide input to Asean leaders and policy makers.
Debbie Stothard, the coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma, said the reality is
that regardless of where people are located, whether they are in exile or inside the country, the
delegation should be from civil society and not from the government.
“We also have to understand it is not the right of the government to chose who is civil society. It
is the right of civil society to choose who civil society is. If the Asean leaders really believe in
their charter and the principles of democracy and human rights, they should also respect civil
society just like civil society respects the government,” said Stothard.
Research Assignment: Civil Society Organizations in
ASEAN Member States
Each student is assigned to do research of one of the below listed CSOs based in the ASEAN
countries and to make a presentation.
Objective of the research: For the civil society activists from Burma it is very important to learn
and understand that there is a vivid and growing civil society sector in the ASEAN region. Some
of these CSOs in other ASEAN countries have struggled in battles which Burmese democracy
and human rights activists are struggling in right now or will struggle in the close future with the
opening of Burma to foreign investment. Activists from Burma can learn a lot from their
ASEAN colleagues, they can get ideas and inspiration, tap from their experiences and
knowledge. But they can learn from them only if and when they build relations of friendship,
solidarity and trust. And friendship and trust-building starts with getting to know each other.
Students are asked to organize their research and presentations around following questions:
Name of the organization?
Where is organization based (country, city)?
What are their mission / aims?
When were they established and for what reason?
What are the main programs of the assigned organization (in the last two years)?
Who are the main target groups of its programs (who is benefiting from their work)?
Who is providing funding for their activities?
Please try to identify 2-3 successful projects / activities / campaigns assigned
organization has done which can give inspiration to activists from Burma?
If an FAT student does an internship in the assigned organization what else he/she can
learn from them?
Is the assigned organization a member of any regional or international network?
Altsean-Burma - Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, Thailand
Initiatives for International Dialogue
Task Force of Detainees of the Philippines
South East Asian Committee for Advocacy, SEACA. Philippines
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Forum Asia, Thailand
Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, ADHOC
Cambodia League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, LICADHO
The Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam)
Suara Rakyat Malaysia, SUARAM
Pusat Komas (Community Communication Centre)
Philippines Alliance of Human Rights Advocacy, PAHRA
Que Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam
Think Center, Singapore
Human Rights Working Group, HRWG, Indonesia
Komisi untuk orang Hilang dan korban tindak kekerasan, KontraS, Indonesia
Transparency International Indonesia
Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), Indonesia
A Training Manual on ASEAN Human Rights Mechanisms
This training manual is prepared as part of FORUM-ASIA's efforts to facilitate civil society
engagement with the newly established ASEAN Human Rights mechanisms, the ASEAN
Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the ASEAN Commission on the
Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). It was produced in
response to a long overdue call to bring more information about ASEAN to the peoples at the
national and community levels. The manual is structured to give trainers a guide on how to break
down the “heavy” subject matter of ASEAN human rights mechanism into smaller modules.
Please click this link to download a pdf copy of the manual, 11.5 MB.