The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), through its Charter, has promoted a people-oriented approach with a clear commitment to democracy, human rights, rule of law, good governance, constitutional government and social justice. The regional bloc also commit to establish a ‘people-centred’ ASEAN-adopted in the vision of “ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together”-in which the member-states agreed “… to build a rules-based, people-oriented, people-centred ASEAN Community, where the people enjoy human rights and fundamental freedom, higher quality of life and the benefits of community building.”
A people-centred ASEAN is not merely about explaining to the wider population what ASEAN is. New spaces must be opened for people to experience ASEAN and be part of the process. Therefore, meaningful engagement of civil society organisations (CSOs)-particularly from the grassroot level- is essential in every element of the decision making process in ASEAN. In practice, however, civil society participation and engagement with ASEAN depends on how ASEAN Member States have perceived them, rooting from more structural issues resulting from the ways in which they are positioned and treated by their government.
The ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) is a venue for CSOs in ASEAN and beyond to consolidate and build solidarity on critical issues in the region, such as human rights, discrimination and inequality, justice, democratic process, and good governance. It is an annual event and has been held in seventeen consecutive years – with growing interests and expectations from CSOs to be able to influence ASEAN. At the initial stage, the ACSC/APF was recognised by the ASEAN, granted an audience with the ASEAN Leader during the ASEAN Summit – the highest policy-making body in ASEAN- as part of the engagement. However, in recent years, the platform has been largely ignored and pushed to the sidelines by ASEAN given the changing (geo)political dynamics in the region.
While the space for civil society to engage with ASEAN as an institution is shrinking, the situation on human rights and democracy in the region is deteriorating. This is marked by the shrinking civic space and the alarming use of repressive laws to harass and intimidate those who defend human rights, including environmental human rights defenders, women human rights defenders, journalists, among others. Furthermore, the ongoing human rights violations and humanitarian crisis in Myanmar are a source of great sadness, with its devastating impact on countless innocent lives and the stability of ASEAN as a whole. In addition, the persistent exclusion of marginalised groups, including indigenous peoples, LGBTIQ+ individuals, refugees and asylum seekers, migrant workers, persons with disabilities, to name a few, is worsening. These issues pose significant challenges to achieving a peaceful and equity ASEAN community.
This year Indonesia was chosen as chair of ASEAN. The period of Indonesia’s Chairmanship in ASEAN with the theme “ASEAN Matter: Epicentrum of Growth” officially started on January 1st 2023, and will end on December 31st 2023. As the chair of ASEAN, Indonesia shall chair the ASEAN Summit. Indonesia will conduct the ASEAN Summit two times, planned for May 2023 and September 2023.
Indonesia’s position as Chair of ASEAN in 2023 is crucial in setting the process for developing key ASEAN documents, especially the Post-2025 ASEAN Blueprint, and setting the course of ASEAN in the midst of global economic recovery post the COVID-19 pandemic, global multidimensional crisis (including economic recession), and regional instability. Given the nature of openness in Indonesia to engage with CSOs, it is also an opportunity for CSOs in the region, including through the ACSC/APF platform, to restart and rebuild a brand new CSOs’ engagement toward the regionalism process, especially to push the civil society agenda forward in this region.
Using this momentum of the Indonesia Chairship, the ACSC/APF will be held in Indonesia, bringing the topic of ‘Reclaiming safe space, restoring democracy, and equity in ASEAN!’. The ACSC/APF 2023, which will be held on 1-3 September 2023 at the Atmajaya University, Jakarta Indonesia shall serve these following objectives:
The ACSC/APF shall serve the following objectives:
- To strengthen solidarity among the people in Southeast Asia through building shared understanding and awareness, on the existential threats to democracy, peace, human rights, environment in respective countries
- To celebrate successes of initiatives by CSOs and grassroot movements with a view coordinating advocacy and social movements towards ASEAN and beyond;
- To further advocate and strengthen constructive engagement between CSOs and relevant stakeholders in order to contribute to the policy making process of ASEAN by providing the Leaders with suggestions and recommendations, especially in their effort to develop ASEAN Master Plan Post-2025, and elicit responses to our proposals, calls, and demands;
- To build on and use the outcomes, calls and demands of some convergence spaces so that we can identify and agree on common campaigns that ACSC/APF will implement after the conference.
Governance of ACSC/APF 2023
The Civil Society Meeting on preparing the chairship of Indonesia in ASEAN was organized in Jakarta, Indonesia on 11 January 2023. The forum mandated four organizations in Indonesia to function as the focal point in organizing the 18th ACSC/APF to be co-chair: Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), Kalyanamitra Foundation, KontraS and Arus Pelangi. The co-chairs got expanded to have more organizations to support the coordination and implementation and is called National Committee.