The organisers of an Asean People’s Forum have expressed deep disappointment that nearly all civil society representative selected for a meeting with Asean government leaders were either rejected or barred from speaking. This action has sabotaged the credibility of the Asean Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights, which was being inaugurated.
At 11.30pm, Thursday, Thai foreign Ministry officials informed organisers of APF that five out of 10 civil society representatives were rejected from the interface meeting with Asean heads of government. The remaining representatives were told to be ready for pick up at 7.00am, nearly five hours before the scheduled meeting. (see below for list of delegates).
These representatives arrived at the Dusit Hotel and were instructed that they would not be permitted to speak at the event. The only person from civil society allowed to make a statement would be Dr. Surichai Wangaeo of Chulalongkorn University, who was originally appointed as moderator of the Interface.
The representatives were further shocked to learn that Singapore and Myanmar had selected substitutes from government-sponsored agencies. Singapore selected a substitute from a charity and the Myanmar regime selected Sitt Aye and Win Myaing, of the Anti-Narcotics Association (Win Myaing is a former high-ranking police officer).
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These developments rendered the interface, an important space for civil society to engage with government officials, utterly meaningless. Therefore, the representatives of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia decided to walk out of the meeting.
We feel strongly that the rejection of our democratically-selected representatives is a rejection of both civil society and the democratic process. Our delegates were selected during the 3-day APF/ACSC, October 18-20. Through this action, the governments concerned are fundamentally undermining the spirit and content of the Asean Charter that they ratified a year ago.
The behaviour of the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Philippines and Burma in rejecting their civil society representatives sabotages the credibility of the Asean Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) which is being inaugurated today.
Civil society has been committed to the objectives of a people-centred Asean as enshrined in the Charter. We have remained determined in our commitment to the essential dialogue process despite the insults and obstacles generated by some officials. We were flexible when two out of 10 representatives were rejected in February. Civil society engaged with governments for the past few months in order to improve the relationship; however, it is clear that the commitment to engagement has been one-sided, now that five out of 10 have been rejected, and the rest were essentially gagged.
We are deeply disappointed at the irresponsibility and apparent irrationality of the governments’ position. At this time of crisis, we were absolutely committed to an opportunity to present civil society’s solutions. The tactics of the governments concerned prove they are not open to discussing solutions to the urgent problems confronting Asean-both governments and peoples.
Finally, we plead with these leaders to stop trying to kill the spirit of an Asean community. Such moves not only hurt the development of the region but also the credibility of individual member states and Asean as a whole.
Ms. Khin Ohmar, Burma/Myanmar
Mr. Nay Vanda, Cambodia
Mrs. Manichanh Philaphanh, Lao PDR
Sister Crescencia L. Lucero, Phillipines
Mr. Sinapan Samydorai, Singapore.
INCLUDED BUT GAGGED
* Ms. Yuyun Wahyuningrum, Indonesia
* Mr. Moon Hui Tah, Malaysia
* Ms. Sawart Pramoonsilp, Thailand
Ms. Tran Thi Thu Thuy, Vietnam
Dato Paduka Zainal Momin, Brunei
* walked out
Organisers of the Asean People’s Forum/Asean Civil Society Conference,
23 October 2009