ASEAN Dialogue: Heads of Government and Civil Society

Posted by under ASEAN Watch on 7 March 2009

The 30-minute dialogue between Asean leaders and representatives of Asean civil groups. The meeting included a briefing from representatives of civil groups followed by an informal exchange between the two.

14th ASEAN Summit dialogue between ASEAN Heads of Government and Civil Society,Dusit Thani Hotel, Cha-am, Hua Hin,28 Feb 2009

The 30-minute dialogue between Asean leaders and representatives of Asean civil groups was chaired by Dr Thitinan Pongsuthirak of Chualongkorn University. Civil Society representatives from Asean member states sat opposite the Asean leaders. The meeting included a briefing from representatives of civil groups followed by an informal exchange between the two. The meeting end with the handing of a statement from the civil society.

The interface took place a little later than the scheduled time of 1230-1300. Present were the Heads of Government/State of all 10 ASEAN members as well as their Foreign Ministers.

The civil society delegation were Mr. Rafendi Djamin , Ms. Yuyun Wahyuningrum, Ms. Wathshlah Naidu, Ms. Maria Estrella Penunia, Mr. Sinapan Samydorai, Ms. Suntree Sae-Geuing, and Mr. Phan Van Ngoc, led by Thitinan Pongsudhirak. The participants chose to be introduced by name and not country, out of solidarity with excluded colleagues. They also made it a point to quote Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and lodge a question on Burma, which went unanswered.

A small group of other civil society representatives stayed in an anteroom and was able to listen in on the meeting with headphones. However, the Burmese and Cambodian delegates who were excluded from the meeting when their government leaders threatened to walk out of the meeting, instead opted to brief media outside. They later met with Thai PM and ASEAN Chair Abhisit Vejjajiva and Thai FM Kasit Piromya.


The group entered the room, where the HoGS were already seated with FMs, as well as Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN Secretary-General.

ASEAN Chair Abhisit Vejjajiva made the welcoming remarks.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak read out a statement, which addressed the main points of the ASEAN Peoples' Forum/ASEAN Civil Society Conference statement.

Civil Society reps then asked their questions (Text follows) in the following order:

Thitinan invited the leaders to answer

Thai PM Abhisit responded.

Then Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung responded in Vietnamese which was simultaneously translated on headset.

Thitinan noted that ASEAN govts should see civil society as partners, not as obstacles.

Closing remark from the chair/Thai PM Abhisit.

Everyone left the room.

Abhisit & Kasit came out to meet with Burmese and Cambodian, where the group was joined by the rest of the civil society delegation. Unfortunately, no "people-oriented" ASEAN leaders join the Thais. During the meeting, a youth representative is also able to present the statement of the ASEAN Youth Camp.

The civil society delegates then adjourned to a string of media interviews and press conferences at the Dusit Thani Hotel which was the venue of the ASEAN Summit, and the Sheraton Hotel, which hosted the ASEAN media centre.   Thai PM/ASEAN Chair Abhisit Vejjajiva & Thai FM Kasit Piromya meet with Burmese and Cambodian activists who were excluded from the dialogue

Statement of the ASEAN Peoples' Forum and 4th ASEAN Civil Society Conference, 28 February 2009.Presentation by Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak

Thank you, Dr. Surin.

Y.E. Khun Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand and the ASEAN Chair

Your Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'tzzaddin Waddaulah of Brunei Darussellam

Y.E. Somdech Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia

Y.E. Mr. Bouasome Bouphavanh, the Prime Minister of the Lao People's Democratic Republic

Y.E. Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the President of the Republic of Indonesia

Dato' Sri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Prime Minister of Malaysia

Y.E. General Thein Sein, the Prime Minister of the Union of Myanmar

Y.E Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the President of the Republic of the Philippines

Y.E. Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore

Y.E. Mr. Nguyen Tan Dung, the Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

My name is Thitinan Pongsudhirak, and I am the director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University. Under the initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand and its ASEAN Department, I have been entrusted with the task of coordinating and facilitating the inaugural ASEAN Peoples' Forum that included the 4th ASEAN Civil Society Conference.

On behalf of civil society participants in the ASEAN Peoples' Forum, I would like to extend sincere gratitude to Your Excellencies for your time and willingness to engage with and listen to the Peoples of ASEAN, and to commend the ASEAN Chair's unprecedented attention to the Third-Track ­ the People-to-People interaction ­ that will enable a bottom-up inclusion for the benefit of a more integrated and people-centred ASEAN in accordance with the ASEAN Charter.

Before proceeding to inform Your Excellencies of the Forum's format and findings, please allow me to introduce the civil society representatives of the ASEAN Peoples, notwithstanding those from member states whom we were unable or not allowed to include:

Mr. Rafendi Djamin , Ms. Yuyun Wahyuningrum, Ms. Wathshlah Naidu, Ms. Maria Estrella Penunia, Mr. Sinapan Samydorai, Ms. Suntree Sae-Geuing, and Mr. Phan Van Ngoc.

Your excellencies,

Because the Peoples of ASEAN have long suffered from a "participation deficit", the ASEAN Peoples' Forum became an enthusiastic and substantial undertaking that involved more than 1,000 civil society participants of all stripes from member countries. Conducted over the past weekend at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Political Science, the ASEAN Peoples' Forum was organised into three clusters ­ namely Political and Security, Economic, and Socio-Cultural ­ in connection with the Three Pillars of the ASEAN Charter that aim to realise an ASEAN Community by 2015. The Forum comprised several dozen plenary sessions and concurrent workshops, complemented by films on ASEAN issues and an evening cultural event. Its extensive coverage of topics ran the gamut, ranging from the ASEAN Human Rights Body and the plight of migrant workers to the wide-ranging impact of globalisation and the ongoing global economic crisis as well as food and energy security. The concluding session featured a civil society dialogue with ASEAN Secretary-General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan and Thai Foreign Minister Mr. Kasit Piromya. Both Dr. Surin and Minister Kasit were generous with their time and responsive in their respective capacities, for which the Forum's participants were grateful.

While the full breadth and depth of the Forum's discussions and findings will be handed to Your Excellencies at the end of our informal meeting, they are summarised as follows:


Deteriorating human rights situation and the persistence of intra-state conflict continue to undermine the political and peace and security conditions in the ASEAN region. The situation is particularly alarming in Burma/Myanmar, with continuing arrests and detention of political prisoners, systematic human rights violations against ethnic minorities, among others, assaults on basic freedoms and rights, especially made stark during the Saffron Revolution and the events surrounding the Nargis cyclone disaster. While human rights violations escalate and remain unresolved, human rights defenders (HRDs) have been targeted and stripped of their freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.


Large-scale development projects, such as mining, dams, ASEAN power grid, roads and industrial plantation ­ currently key drivers of the ASEAN economy ­ have led to environmental degradation and resulted in negative impacts on culture and livelihoods of peoples and communities in the region. Such a development thrust has further exacerbated inequality and food insecurity in the region, where many, especially the poor, are suffering from rising food prices, severe hunger, rising unemployment and falling incomes, and lack of access and control over land, water, productive resources, genetic resources, as well as social protection.

The climate crisis further highlights the vulnerability of the region, where the impacts of climate change have become unmistakable and pervasive. Yet there is still no plan to reverse the development path especially for industrial, energy and agricultural development, and environmental standards or common values at the national and regional levels are still lacking to address this urgent and serious situation.


Education, health, heritage, culture and disaster management continue to be neglected areas in the region, with serious consequences to quality of life. Free and quality basic education is still not accessible to all children and youth in ASEAN, and a large number of adults remain illiterate. Most ASEAN member states do not seriously allocate budget for education that will reach out to poor and marginalised sectors such as communities in armed conflict areas and emergency areas. ASEAN countries have yet to meet the minimum budget allocation for health despite the high prevalence of malnutrition, maternal mortality, and diseases. Disaster management is conducted done on an ad hoc basis, focusing only on restoring livelihood but not addressing attendant problems such as land disputes and human rights violations, often rendering responses ineffective, as witnessed in major disasters such as the Cyclone Nargis.


With the precious time remaining, I would like to move into the last stage of our informal dialogue by inviting five of the ASEAN Peoples' Civil Society representatives to pose questions to Your Excellencies. First, we have xx from xx. Second …

At this point, please allow me to invite Your Excellencies to respond to any of the questions and issues that have been raised.


We are immensely grateful for your time and forbearance. We also offer a note of appreciation to the Chair and to the Thai MFA for allowing this trust-building dialogue to take place. We encourage Your Excellencies to institute today's dialogue into the Framework of the ASEAN Summit. ASEAN's societies are complex, its peoples diverse. The ASEAN Peoples should be seen as Partners ­ not Obstacles ­ in ASEAN's planned integration as enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, with the ASEAN Peoples as the cornerstone.

Track One has been able to propel ASEAN forward only up to a point. With more engagement between Your Excellencies and ASEAN's civil society in the future, we the Peoples of Track Three can help provide the needed momentum for the realisation of an ASEAN Community. On that note, please allow me to bring this dialogue to its fruitful and auspicious end. Thank you very much.



We stand here united as the voice of ASEAN civil society, including our colleagues from Burma, Cambodia, Lao and Brunei who are not able to be in this room.

We show our commitment towards the process of open and constructive engagement with ASEAN member states. In line with Article 1.13 of the Charter, we wish learn from you, your Excellencies, what mechanisms you will implement to ensure and assure us that our voices will be truly represented in all the decision-making processes of ASEAN including future dialogues so as not to undermine the spirit and principles of the ASEAN Charter.


We welcome the initiative on the establishment of the ASEAN human rights body as mandated by the Article 14 of the ASEAN charter to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in ASEAN. From different sources that we have obtained, we understood that the terms of reference on the establishment of the ASEAN human rights body has extensive mandate on the promotion and not, unfortunately, on protection.

After the Vienna Declaration on Human rights in 1993, all of us believe that human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, no matter to what level of economic situation of the country..

In this line, we would like to inquire on to what extent that the 10 ASEAN states can ensure its international obligation to protect human rights of the people with lack of protection mandates in the Terms of reference of ASEAN human rights body.


Your Excellencies.thank you for this opportunity.

The financial crisis causes serious problem for the migrant workers, many workers are losing their jobs. ASEAN economic integration by 2015, recognizes the need for mobility of goods, services, professionals and workers across the border. In Jan 2007, ASEAN member countries signed the ASEAN Declaration on the protection and promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. In Septemeber, ASEAN formed the ASEAN Committee for the Implementation of the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW).  Since 2007, the Civil Society and Trade Union Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers has conducted 7 national consultations and7 regional consultations to draft the Civil Society Framework Instrument on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers. The TF AMW should be seen as a partner and not an obstacle. Here is the question to ASEAN Leaders:

Will the ASEAN Secretariat and  ASEAN Committee on Migrant Workers (ACMW) engage and receive the CS ASEAN Framework Instrument  and welcome the participation of CS as partners in the implementation process, decent job creation, and in ensuring a fair and just deal for all workers, especially the most vulnerable migrant workers?   If yes, how will this be done practically? 

Note: 22 Feb 2009, the same request was made to ASEAN Secretary-General Dr.Surin Pitsuwan, at the ASEAN Civil Society Conference Dialogue with ASEAN and Thai Foreign Ministry.


Your Excellencies, thank you for this opportunity.

Please allow me to quote the famous saying of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, "use your liberty to promote ours". I am here to exercise my rights as an ASEAN person representing our ASEAN friends who are prevented from being present in this meeting.

Excellencies, I would like to use this opportunity to get your responses on what would be the immediate measures as regional group, to stop the ongoing human rights violations in Burma, including the release of all political prisoners. We also would like to know how you would ensure that inclusive dialogue takes place before the 2010 election, including a review of the 2008 constitution so that Burma can have a stable future.

Finally, your excellencies, we would like to hear your plans to address the issue of mass migration and refugees with humane treatment.

Thank you, Excellencies.


Thank you. Your Excellencies.

In addressing discrimination and inequalities experienced by women, the Vientiane Action Plan (VAP) in 2004 called for the establishment of the Commission on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). The timeline for setting up, mandate, functions, status and positioning of the ACWC vis-à-vis the ASEAN Human Rights Body is still unclear. How is ASEAN going to address this and ensure its compliance to international human rights standards of substantive equality and non-discrimination?

Further, what mechanisms will ASEAN put into place to ensure full participation of women from all communities and sectors and all the structures and processes of ASEAN.

Finally your Excellencies, I would like to take this opportunity to say that we are encouraged by the decision of the ASEAN Chair Mr Abhisit and the Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Kasit, to dialogue with our colleagues from Burma and Cambodia while waiting outside. To ensure united and inclusive dialogue we invited all the other people-oriented ASEAN leaders to join us in the dialogue with our Cambodian and Burmese colleagues at the end of this session.

Thank you.

Statement presented by Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak

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