Entries by akmal.muhammad.f

Timor-Leste’s ASEAN Membership: To Be or Not to Be?

by Muhammad Fazlur Zikra Arifuddin (photo via VOAIndonesia)

As it is known for several years, the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) has always comprised of 10 members. However, since 2002 there is a new player waiting to be accepted within the association. Timor-Leste after gaining its independence from Indonesia has started to show its interest to contribute in ASEAN’s solidarity. Since its independence, Timor-Leste holds the status as an observer state despite its participations in ASEAN Annual Meeting of Foreign Ministers (AMM), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and even agreed to the Southeast Asia’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in 2007. Despite its participation efforts, Timor-Leste has not been granted its membership status although officially applied for in 2011. There are three possible reasons that might answer the question of why Timor-Leste is still not a member of ASEAN, which are due to change of ASEAN’s legal personality, what Timor-Leste has to offer, and foreign influence.

It is known that in the establishment of ASEAN, the first five members, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, agreed to Bangkok Declaration or also known as ASEAN Declaration. Then, the constituent instrument of ASEAN is shifted towards ASEAN Charter, which was enacted in 2007. The charter has made the admission of a new member more difficult with the additional requirements laid out in Article 6 Section 2 that states Location in the recognized geographical region of Southeast Asia; Recognition by all ASEAN Member States; Agreement to be bound and abide by the Charter; and Ability and willingness to carry out the obligation of Membership. While the Declaration’s requirements are only the matter of location and capable to adhere the aims principles and purposes, made it easier for Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar to gain membership compared to Timor-Leste. While the first three requirements are met, the latest are still in process of being required. In ensuring the fulfillment of the requirements, ASEAN established ASEAN Coordinating Council Working Group (ACCWG) after Timor-Leste’s application. To be a new member, under the Charter, Timor-Leste has to align its legal framework to with ASEAN legal instruments and ASEAN Community Blueprint. The study shows that by 2015, Timor-Leste has only 1.6% binding its legal frameworks with ASEAN’s agreement while it was targeted to be fully compliant with the increase 50% in legal alignment by June 2018.

In further explaining Timor-Leste’s ability and willingness, it has reached to the question of ‘What Timor-Leste has to offer?’ Despite its past in struggling for independence, Timor-Leste has scored 7.19 in the 2018 Democracy Index by The Economist Intelligence Unit, placed as the highest democracy state among other ASEAN members. Also, Timor-Leste has successfully conducted its premier election without domestic political turmoil. This shows the accountability of Timor-Leste in its ability to carry out the would-be tasks as ASEAN member. Timor-Leste also had opened its embassies in all of ten ASEAN members, which is an important parameter for them to be considered as a new member. All member states supports Timor-Leste’s admission and it come without full assurance, stating that Timor-Leste is still lacking in economic capability and human resources. However, this statement could be proven wrong. According to data provided by the World Bank, Timor-Leste’s GDP per capita in 2018 placed above Cambodia’s and Myanmar’s. This also shows the capability of Timor-Leste’s economy that is comparable with the two ASEAN member mentioned previously. Meanwhile, Timor-Leste still needs to improve its human resources as its Human Capital Index was listed at the lowest among all the ASEAN members.

Last but not least, another factor that influence the prolonging of Timor-Leste’s membership admission is the fear of possible foreign influence. It is important to be noted that, China as one of the first country to recognize Timor-Leste, has been sending helps and assistance towards Timor-Leste since its independence. This includes mostly infrastructure, military and government facilities. As mentioned previously, improvement in economy and human resources is needed by Timor-Leste in securing its possibility to become a member of ASEAN. In achieving this, Timor-Leste is still in progress for improvement, and it is impossible without any help. On 23rd March 2017, Timor-Leste is approved to be a member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which is backed by China, to improve its economic and social development. Another apparent fact is that Timor-Leste also joined China’s Belt and Road Energy Partnership and received aid in building infrastructures, including Timor-Leste National Power Grid, Suai Highway, as well as Tibar Bay Port. These aids are helpful for Timor-Leste’s development, however, it is problematic at the same time as ASEAN by accepting Timor-Leste would mean that China may influence Timor-Leste’s decision in ASEAN. Thus, hampering the consensus decision-making process. One example would be the veto by Cambodia and Laos in the issue of South China Sea seems to be defending China’s interest and hampers the ASEAN consensus in Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea.

In conclusion, the prolonging process of Timor-Leste’s admission to ASEAN is due to shift of ASEAN Declaration towards ASEAN Charter, which allows ASEAN in delaying the process; Timor-Leste’s economy and human resources; and the likelihood of foreign influence within ASEAN in the future. Possibility and impossibility for Timor-Leste’s admission are included within the aforementioned reasons. Despite the obstacles present ahead, Timor-Leste should continue to be tenacious in their effort for ASEAN membership.


Muhammad Fazlur Zikra Arifuddin is an Undergraduate Student majoring in International Relations, Universitas Gadjah Mada. He has recently completed the internship program at ASEAN Studies Center UGM. Zikra could be reached through email zika_arf@yahoo.co.id.

Orphanages and their volunteers: A look at Cambodia’s orphanage voluntourism industry

by Amelia Harvey (picture by Tormod Sandtorv)

Orphanages for children are increasing in number globally and throughout much of Southeast Asia. Worldwide, UNICEF has estimated that as many as 8 million girls and boys live in orphanages or institutional residential care facilities where children are stripped from their families, homes and rights [UNICEF 2006 Pg.183]. This essay will focus on the rise of orphanages in Cambodia and the manner in which voluntourism has accelerated this growth.

The growth of orphanages is not unique to Cambodia and is growing internationally, it is estimated that 80 per cent of children living in orphanages are not actual orphans and have at least one living parent. To bring this to perspective, Haiti has experienced a 150 per cent rise in orphanages since the 2010 earthquake, with only 15 per cent of institutions being formally registered. It is estimated by the Haitian government that 80 per cent have at least one living parents and 92 per cent of orphanages are funded from the United States [Batha 2018]. A similar motive continues in Nepal, where 85 per cent of children are believed to have one living parent and in Ghana, which has seen a 1400 per cent increase in the number of orphanages in the past 13 years [UNICEF 2019][Matthews 2019].

Cambodia faces a similar situation as written above. Between 2005 to 2010, while the number of parentless children fell, the number of orphanages rose by over 75 per cent and the number of children living in these institutions increased by 80 per cent [Guiney & Mostafanezhad 2015 p.140][Matthews 2019]. Furthermore, the push for more children to entre orphanages has been promoted by the false mindset that has penetrated the culture claiming that a child in an orphanage will have better educational opportunities and be able to learn English. In turn, it is advocated that the child will have more employment prospects in later life to then lift their families out of poverty in the future. While this is not only false and damaging to families and their children, it places a burden on the child to be responsible for their family and destroys their ability to forge their own path in life [Matthews 2019]. Children with disabilities are consistently placed in orphanages as their families believe the orphanages will be more equipped to care for them. Overall, poverty has become the main factor in children relocating to orphanages, not the incapacity of their parents and families to raise them[ReThink Orphanages 2019].

A key factor in the Cambodian orphanage boom has been due to the influx of volunteer tourists, or ‘voluntourists’. Voluntourism is the phenomenon of outside people, generally from the global north, paying to participate in programs, usually in development or conservation projects, generally in the global south. Orphanage voluntourism is a subsection of the industry, it is short-term volunteering at an orphanage, donating money and goods, or attending performances incorporated into a holiday [Guiney & Mostafanezhad 2015 p.133]. Orphanage voluntourism is a part of the global poverty tourism industry and has emerged in Cambodia among tourists seeking to ‘give back’ during their travels. The vast majority of orphanages are not run by the state, rather they are funded in whole by fees and donations from volunteers and other tourists [Matthews 2019]. The fees donated are usually made in cash and from then on becomes untraceable and embroiled in corruption, one report indicated a foreigners handing up to $7000 to an orphanage director without receiving a receipt or any indication of where the funds will be going [Guiney & Mostafanezhad 2015 p.140].

The lack of transparency about the paths the money has meant little of the funds collected go towards the children in need. Testimonies from children who have lived at orphanages highlight the lack of resources they received outlining “We never had enough food to eat … often we would catch mice to eat” and “the volunteers at the orphanage never noticed anything, but they notices us looking poor, so they would donate” [Parliament of Australia 2017]. Furthermore, gifts, clothes and toys given to the children by visitors are also reclaimed by the orphanage directors to then be resold, creating a never-ending cycle at the expense of the children [Matthews 2019]. To generate more revenue, children are forced to perform traditional Khmer songs and dances “to make them [the tourists] happy” and uphold the ‘poor but happy’ vibe. The children are essentially treated as slaves at the oblivion of the visitor [Parliament of Australia 2017] [BBC 2018].

To expand, the voluntourism industry has significant emotional toll on the children themselves. The children are expected to enhance their vulnerability while expressing continuous joy about the visitors in their home, with some children being told to refer to the visitors as “mummy” and “daddy” (in English) and befriend them to heighten emotional reactions. The orphanage directors work as ‘emotional supervisors’ to ensure the children act accordingly to elicit high donations and so the children do not inform the visitors of the abuse they experience [Guiney 2017 p.131]. Furthermore, many children in orphanages experience attachment disorder as the high turnover of volunteers as they are constantly forming new emotional connections with new adults. Former children at orphanages loved the attention from volunteers but have said “it was even more terrible when they [the volunteers] left; every time it would feel like I was being abandoned” [Guiney 2017 p.133] [Parliament of Australia 2017]. The children have been conditioned to cuddle anyone, leaving them vulnerable in a path leading to paedophiles and sexual assault, especially as approximately 22% of tourists in Cambodia visiting for sex tourism, with child sex tourism unfortunately embedded into this [Guiney 2017 p.134].

The further trouble in voluntourism in orphanages is that the volunteers themselves do not have any applicable skills needed for working with children, nor do they receive sufficient training. Moreover, the practice of them entering the children’s homes and viewing them as a tourist commodity reinforces Western superiority perceptions while also eroding their right to privacy and agency in their lives [Guiney & Mostafanezhad 2015 p.134].

To combat the growing number of orphanages, the Cambodian Government is working towards an action plan with a goal to return 30 per cent of children in orphanages to their families or to community and family based care. By June 2019, 250 children have successfully reunited with their families and communities and 449 cases have been opened by the Department of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation in Cambodia. The children will have support with their reintegration from social workers and be re-enrolled in schools [UNICEF 2019]. In conjunction to combat the growth of orphanages fuelled by voluntourism, the United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office warn citizens about the risks orphanage volunteering poses to the children and the Australian Government maintains child performances in orphanages is tantamount to modern-day slavery [United Kingdom 2015][BBC 2018]. Many large travel companies began to stand against orphanage tourism, including Intrepid, Projects Abroad, Flight Centre, World Challenge and more, creating an international coalition against the practice [ReThink Orphanages 2018].

Living in an orphanage is one of the most damaging environments a child can grow up in. yet even with the harm institutionalisation brings being well known, orphanages continue to be built. The orphanage industry has been booming in Cambodia, fuelled by the voluntourism industry of wealthy foreigners paying large sums to visit and play with the children accompanied with the cultural misconception that children will receive high quality education in the orphanages. As the extreme negative impacts of the orphanage industry is revealed, the Cambodian Government needs to continue with reintegrating children into their families and communities while foreign governments and travel companies alike need to advise against orphanage tourism.



Batha, E 2018 Most children in orphanages are not orphans [ONLINE] Available at: http://news.trust.org/item/20181114025819-qqbtx/ [Accessed 24 October 2019]

BBC 2018 Australia says orphanage trafficking is modern-day slavery [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-46390627 [Accessed 25 October 2019]

Guiney, T & Mostafanezhad, M 2015 The Political economy of orphanage tourism in Cambodia Tourist Studies Vol, 15(2) Pg.133-4,140

Guiney, T 2017 “Hug-an-orphan vacations”: “Love” and emotion in orphanage tourism Geographical Journal 184 (2) June 2017 Pg.133-4

Image: Knaus, C 2017 The race to rescue Cambodian children from orphanages exploiting them for profit [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/19/the-race-to-rescue-cambodian-children-from-orphanages-exploiting-them-for-profit [Accessed 25 October 2019]

Matthews, L 2019 Critiques of Voluntourism SOCU1038 RMIT University 21:20 minutes 23 October 2019 Times 17:30-35:00

Parliament of Australia, 2017 Orphanage Trafficking Committee in establishing the Modern Slavery Act in Australia [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Foreign_Affairs_Defence_and_Trade/ModernSlavery/Final_report/section?id=committees%2Freportjnt%2F024102%2F25036 [Accessed 25 October 2019]

ReThink Orphanages 2018 Travel Companies that do not support orphanage tourism [ONLINE] Available at: https://rethinkorphanages.org/volunteer-checklist/travel-companies-do-not-support-orphanage-tourism [Accessed 25 October 2019]

ReThink Orphanages 2019 Facts and Figures about Orphanage Tourism [ONLINE] Available at: https://rethinkorphanages.org/problem-orphanages/facts-and-figures-about-orphanage-tourism [Accessed 25 October 2019]

UNICEF 2006 World Report on Violence against Children Chapter 5, Violence against children in care and justice institutions Page 183

UNICEF 2019 Escaping the misery of orphanage life [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.unicef.org/cambodia/stories/escaping-misery-orphanage-life [Accessed 25 October 2019]

UNICEF 2019 Volunteering in Orphanages [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.unicef.org/rosa/what-we-do/child-protection/volunteering-orphanages [Accessed 24 October 2019]

United Kingdom 2015 Gap years, volunteering overseas and adventure travelling [ONLINE] Updated 18 October 2019 Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/safer-adventure-travel-and-volunteering-overseas [Accessed 25 October 2019]


Amelia Harvey is an Undergraduate Student majoring in International Studies at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Australia. She has been working as an intern at ASEAN Studies Center UGM for two months and currently working on her final undergraduate thesis. She could be reached through email amelia.harvey1998@hotmail.com

ASEAN: A Safe Haven for Ruling Class?

by M. Daffa Syauqi A (Photo by Lance Cpl. Kasey Peacock)

It has been 52 years since the conception of ASEAN in 1967 as the leading inter-state organization in Southeast Asia. Built on the spirit of similar history as former colonialized coutry as well to prevent the spread of Communism in the region, ASEAN has steadily making progress in various aspects within state-building process such as security, economy as well as cultural cooperation. It was further emphasized by the creation of three pillars consisted of Political-Security Community, Economic Community, as well as Socio-Cultural Community (ASEAN, 2015) as the framework for the following actions taken by ASEAN to further integrate the region. However with such progress the capability of ASEAN to enforce the recognition of declaration it made must be questioned, especially when it touched the sphere of Political-Security Community that are still often considered as ‘taboo’ and ‘sensitive’ issue. In this paper the author would like to bring up the issue of ASEAN principles in protecting various ruling class policies and actions within ASEAN state members, the issue will be exemplified in three countries which are Indonesia, Phillippines, and Myanmar.

Within the scope of ASEAN, it was acknowledged that the principle of non-intereference signed in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in 1976 proved to be a vital instrument in keeping order in ASEAN (ASEAN, 1976) to allow each of the state members to respect each other domestic politics and promised not to intervene within each other affairs. Within Political-Security matter, this might cause a contradicting policy to be applied in various Southeast Asian states considering that most of the countries still have tendency to fall into dictatorship as military influence within the newly-born democratic ideas are still gripping strong in these countries. Such example could be seen on the direct violation of ASEAN Human Rights Declaration that was signed in 2012 at Phnom Penh, Cambodja (ASEAN, 2012) that defines the general principles of Human Rights protection in Southeast Asia consisted of Civil & Political rights, Economic, Social and Cultural rights, Right to Development and Right to Peace. In this case, the audience may see Indonesia under Joko Widodo administration brutally repressing Papua demonstrator for their demand of independence due to the lack of development in the region (Tasevski, 2019), then Philippines within Duterte’s administration where thousands of people died due to its brutal crackdown on drugdealers and users that are rampant within the country (Ellis-Petersen, 2018), and last but not least the ethnic genocide of Rohingya that currently happened in Myanmar under the watch of Noble prize winner Aung San Suu Kyii and regarded as one of the worst genocidal case in Southeast Asia (Safdar & Siddiqui, 2019).

Despite these atrocities, there are no single action from ASEAN or its state members to stop these policies besides ‘condemning’ the action or simply sending in protests. The principle of non-interference stands as the lack of rigid enforcer of Human Rights Declaration ASEAN has made few years prior. Be it reminded that when it was brought within the context of local politics, both of these leaders have appeased to the populists demands in the creation of these policies. Without any enforcer entity stronger than the overall position of state members, ASEAN will upheld its status quo in reserving its lack of willingness in the creation of, in this case, human rights norms within the region meanwhile allowing more atrocities to happen. In comparison to European Union, they had clear and distinct bureaucratic level, the creation of European Commission as the executive branch of regional decision-making as well as Court of Justice of the European Union that acts judiscial entity of the region, making a clear indication that European Union is indeed one-way above state, wielding the capability to bring out the jurisdiction and enforcement to its member states upon dealing with an issue.

In ASEAN however, it is often doubted that ASEAN will not be able to create nor willing to create similar position as European Union has made now, considering that the status quo that is currently going on in ASEAN right now is working in ruling class’ favor. The requirement of having able to settle one’s issue without any interference from outside actors proved to be an invaluable elements that ASEAN can provide to its member states as state-building progress are considered to be far more important than other issues, therefore each of the ruling class in member states cannot afford to have an uprising or movement that challenges their state-building progress.


Reference List

ASEAN. (2015). Declaration of ASEAN Concord II (Bali Concord II. Retrieved from http://www.asean.org/news/item/declaration-of-asean-concord-ii-bali-concord-ii

ASEAN, (1976). Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia Indonesia, 24 February 1976. Retrieved from https://asean.org/treaty-amity-cooperation-southeast-asia-indonesia-24-february-1976/

ASEAN, (2012). ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from <https://www.asean.org/storage/images/ASEAN_RTK_2014/6_AHRD_Booklet.pdf>

Tasevski, O., (2019). “West Papua’s Quest for Independence”. The Diplomat. Retrieved from < https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/west-papuas-quest-for-independence/>

Ellis-Petersen, H., (2018). “Duterte’s Philippines drug war death toll rises above 5,000.” The Guardian. Retrieved from < https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/19/dutertes-philippines-drug-war-death-toll-rises-above-5000>

Safdar, A. & Usaid Siddque, (2019). “ICJ speech: Suu Kyi fails to use ‘Rohingya’ to describe minority.” Al-Jazeera. Retrieved from < https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/aung-san-suu-kyi-fails-word-rohingya-icj-speech-191212102606322.html>


M. Daffa Syauqi A is a last year Undergraduate student majoring in International Relations, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Daffa is currently working as an intern at ASEAN Studies Center UGM. He could be reached through email daffa.syauqi97@gmail.com.

Press Release: CIFP 2019

In collaboration with the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia’s annual Conference on Indonesian Foreign Policy (CIFP), the ASEAN Studies Centre hosted a Parallel Session titled “ASEAN Centrality, and the Indo Pacific: Can They Change the Geostrategic Chessboard?”. The Conference is the largest foreign policy conference in Indonesia and the world and was hosted on the 30 November 2019 at The Kasablanka Hall, Jakarta.

The chosen theme for this year’s conference was “Cooling Off the Hot Peace: Strategic Opportunities and Economic Remedies for a Distressful World”. The theme delved into the increasing re-emergence of “hot peace” in world affairs arisen from geo-strategic rivalries, mistrust, disruption, and brinkmanship, and promoted participants to look for a more stable, durable, and cooperative world order. Speakers at the main event included the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, Retno L.P. Marsudi, the former Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Dr. Marty Natalegawa, the former President of East Timor and Nobel Peace Laureate, José Manuel Ramos-Horta among many others.

In the Parallel session, the session begun with Dr Dafri Agussalim’s, the Director of ASEAN Studies Centre, opening remarks about the Indo-Pacific concept and the Outlook. Dr Agussalim highlights that Indonesian foreign policy seeks to be inclusive, transparent, and comprehensive in character, based on the mutual commitment to foster peace and prosperity in the region. He describes the agreement of the ASEAN Outlook in the Indo-Pacific Region as Indonesia’s greatest diplomatic success among the member states. This is alongside his promotion that ASEAN must play a more significant role in the region, or the prosperity and opportunities will only be experienced by a few countries outside of the ASEAN region. Dr Agussalim concluded his remarks by accentuating the absolute necessity for Indonesia to maintain synergy in working with ASEAN and other stakeholder domestically to coordinate Indonesia’s foreign policy with that of ASEAN.

The sessions main discussion was moderated by Dr Poppy Sulistyaning Winanti, Vice Dean of Collaboration, Alumnni and Research Affairs of Faculty of Social and Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada; and panellists included Ambassador Jose Travares from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr Kavi Chongkittavon from the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), Professor Richard Heydarian from National Chengchi University and Ambassador Kok Li Peng, the Permanent representative for Singapore to ASEAN.  The Panel begun with a discussion of whether ASEAN should stay away from the dangerous rivalries, or if there is anything ASEAN can do to “cool down” the situation. Ambassador Travares presented that ASEAN is not shying away from conflict, although he argued that too much was being asked of ASEAN, as ASEAN is not a supernational body with a parliament, commission, court of justice and money like the European Union. Ambassador Kok Li Peng highlighted that ASEAN is still a small organisation where the member countries are still learning how to manage their sovereignty. She promoted that due to this ASEAN was created for leaders to manage international tensions and to work towards development and building in a non-exclusive manner. Dr Chongkittavon outlined that the weakness of ASEAN is truly its strength, as ASEAN does not have enemies, it can create a mechanism for rivalries to come together and become a “bridge builder” between conflicting sides. He also describes ASEAN as a “Disneyland for World Politics” as the many systems of government work productively together. Professor Heydarian quoted that even though “you might not be interested in the Pacific, the Pacific is interested in you”. He took a different approach and advocated that in special circumstances, ASEAN must take a ‘side’ to maintain strength. In relation to strength, Professor Heydarian stated that individual countries within ASEAN can be very influential with other middle-power nations, such as Japan and Korea, and to remove themselves from the US-China conflict.

The second question mainly focused on how the new Indo-Pacific Outlook can be used in policy making, and how inclusive the Outlook will be in relation to the Indo-Pacific. Ambassador Travares promoted that the Outlook showed the world that ASEAN has its own mind and independence and has moved beyond choosing between the options available from other powers. Furthermore, he linked the commonality between ASEAN members and outside stakeholders is productivity and questioned why the focus remained on conflicts and rivalries. Ambassador Kok Li Peng endorsed the need for a debate in how ASEAN will move forward in the future, after the Outlook. She said that ASEAN needs to continue working towards centrality as it will never be automatic. Dr Chongkittavon further replied that ASEAN no longer needs to choose and gave credit to the Indonesian-Thailand synergy that made the document possible.  He believes that ASEAN has earnt its centrality and can continue to set guidelines and maintain future projects. Professor Heydarian supported that strategic-intersectionality can be used to endorse centralism. Furthermore, minilateralism needs to be employed to work together on issues of shared concern, rather than focusing on the conflict ASEAN is a stakeholder in. He concluded the need for ASEAN to work with other regarding, but not against, China to achieve centrality, rather than only asserting it.

The final question asked panellists to summarise the future of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. Ambassador Travares optimistically stated that ASEAN is transforming todays challenges into opportunities for cooperation in the future, while Ambassador Kok Li Peng alluded to the ASEAN led creation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the largest free trade area ever created, to show the capabilities ASEAN holds. Meanwhile, Professor Heydarian supported that ASEAN and its member states do have agency and are successfully growing to become middle powers. He also stated that regarding ASEAN in the Indo Pacific “we are hung together, or we are hung apart”.  Dr Chongkittavon simply summarised ASEAN as an “imperfect perfection” as an organisation and to give our trust to ASEAN

More information about upcoming events at the ASEAN Studies Centre UGM can be found at our website (https://asc.fisipol.ugm.ac.id/) and for the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia at their website (http://www.fpcindonesia.org/).

Press Release: Public Discussion and Book Launching on the 10th Anniversary of AICHR The Evolution of the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism: Institutional and Thematic Issues Within

Written by: Fara Sheila Azalia

In commemoration of ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)’s 10th anniversary, ASEAN Studies Center UGM has held the Public Discussion and Book Launching with the theme “The Evolution of the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism: Institutional and Thematic Issues Within” at East Seminar (Seminar Timur), Faculty of Social and Political Sciences UGM, 16 November 2019.

Attended by over 40 institutions from all over Jogjakarta, this event launched the book and invited several notable speakers who were active in promoting and protecting human rights in ASEAN as a way to reflect how far we have overcome, and what are things that challenge us ahead.

Dio Herdiawan Tobing and Dr. Randy Wirasta Nandyatama as the editors of the book, along with Ezka Amalia moderated the whole discussion. Dio opened the session by talking about how human rights are perceived as Western thinking and how to contextualize human rights to be more relevant in ASEAN. Although human rights have its own ‘rules of the game’, however, this rule cannot be applied directly as ASEAN is made up of diverse countries. For instance, Indonesia and Thailand are going independent, while others are trying to have open elections. Thus, how to go beyond the rules and make it more relevant to the condition of ASEAN possess? That’s one of the question the book trying to answer. Randy presented the opportunities and challenges of implementing human rights in ASEAN. When it comes to opportunities, there have been good relations between states and civil society organizations (CSOs). Member states require new and fresh ideas and CSOs can give new ideas on how to promote human rights. When it comes to challenges, ASEAN has an ‘exclusivity’, meaning that different countries have their own distinct views towards human rights, which makes it harder for CSOs to engage. Each country has specific strategic thinking on human rights and only by having more knowledge, CSOs can have better suggestions on how to promote human rights. Ammar Hidayatullah as one of the writers of the book talked about rights for the disabled person in ASEAN. In ASEAN, 1 from 10 people have disabilities, making them reach to 65 million people in the region. So far, ASEAN has drafted the 2012 Bali Declaration and 2012 Commission drafted the Human Rights Declaration for the advancement for the rights of people with disabilities.

In the next session which called ‘Looking Back How Far Have We Gone Now?’, H.E. Amb. Ade Padmo Sarwono as the Permanent Representative of Indonesia to ASEAN highlighted the progress of human rights mechanism in ASEAN and how different countries have their own way to achieve establishment of protection of human rights. AICHR essentially is to promote conversation among the people in ASEAN so that they can share the best practice on protecting human rights in their own country. Although it has the element of ‘intergovernmental’, however, the work does not fall to the government scope only. It has to be supported by all elements of society to be succeeded. Only through conversations, then countries within ASEAN can move forward to achieve human rights protection. H.E. Amb. Phasporn Sangasubana, Permanent Representative of Thailand to ASEAN highlighted the role of non-state actors as the representative of AICHR and there has to be cooperation and coordination among the stakeholders in ASEAN. H.E. Yuyun Wahyuningrum as the Indonesian Representative to AICHR explained how human rights used to be perceived nationally, and since AICHR established, there are efforts to situate human rights regionally. AICHR still has limitations due to the lack of mandate of fact-finding, monitoring, and investigation of human rights. However, they are now acting as the platform of political dialogue between countries to share ways of promoting and protecting human rights nationally. They also have the ability to establish a focal point on specific issues. She argued that AICHR has been achieving good progress so far, by becoming a promotional regime–they institutionalized many human rights mechanisms such as AHRD, DEVAWC, and ACTIP.

The last session, ‘Looking Forward Prospects and Challenges Ahead’, was talking about what should AICHR improve to promote the protection of human rights in ASEAN by inviting Edmund Thai Boon Soon as the Former Malaysian Representative to AICHR (2015-2018), Desi Hanara as the Southeast Asia Regional Coordinator for ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, and Rachel Arini J as the East Asia and ASEAN Programme Manager of FORUM-ASIA Report No.2 Launching Perspective from the CSOs. Edmund stressed the importance of being assertive and do fact-finding for AICHR. Human rights standards often fall to the ‘margin of appreciation’ thus there has to be an agreed standard for ASEAN member countries. ASEAN also has many issues such as lack of protection for migrant workers. Although such issue exist, however, it is still lacking on how to manage those issues and what ASEAN can do is by having more fact-finding to cover as many issues as possible. Desi Hanara, on the other hand, compared AICHR with other human rights regional organizations. To name a few, European Convention on Human Rights, Inter-American Human Rights System, African Commission on Human’s People’s Rights, and ECOWAS. What ASEAN still lacking is on the individual complaint’s mechanism. ECHR can facilitate individual to submit their complaints directly to the ECtHR if the country is violating her/his rights. ECOWAS does not require one to exhaust local remedies if he/she wants to submit a case to the court. How about AICHR? It is not reaching those stages yet. Rachel Arinii assessed the performance of AICHR from the lense of CSOs. through the FORUM-SAIA Report No.2, there are various items that AICHR still lacking on. AICHR remained silent during the Rohingya Crisis and they only focus on achieving civic and political rights. Throughout these 10 years, there has not many that AICHR achieved. However, Rachel noted that this happened not because of the failure of the representatives. This happened due to structural failure. Last but not least, she recommended several actions to improve AICHR. One of them is to remove the ‘intergovernmental’ element from AICHR’s name and its mandate so that it becomes everyone’s job to improve human rights protection in ASEAN.

The book is accessible by early next year and can be accessed through our website (asc.fisipol.ugm.ac.id).


Teaching materials: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1BLnS3cPwp_v3VyNk9NXLL3CDsAIl49Pc?usp=sharing

35th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits

Sunday 10th November 2019 – On 31st October until 4th November, Heads of States of ASEAN gathered in Bangkok for the 35th ASEAN Summit. With this year’s theme of “advancing partnership for sustainability”, Heads of States reiterated the importance of continuity and sustainability, and committed to continue promoting partnership in the interest of sustainability within ASEAN and the international community as a whole. This includes strengthening ASEAN-led rostrums such as ASEAN Plus One, ASEAN Plus Three (APT), and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

The opening ceremony saw speeches from the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and an opening statement from the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand General Prayut Chan-o-cha. In his opening statement, he emphasised the importance of an ASEAN community that is “peaceful, prosperous, people-centred” and one that leaves “no one behind”, alluding to the economic development gap between more developed ASEAN countries and the lesser developed.

Related summits that occurred subsequently include the 22nd ASEAN-China Summit, the 16th ASEAN-India Summit, and the 10th ASEAN-UN Summit.

Points of discussion in the ASEAN Summit included plans to sign the world’s largest regional free trade pact. Thailand stated that it hopes to conclude negotiations on this trade deal by the end of the year. Other points of discussion included maritime issues in Vietnam, a joint-bid to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup, and measures to prevent plastic waste imports.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo reiterated on this issue on his Instagram account. He highlighted how it “violates international rules regarding plastic waste” and expressed his hopes for “cooperation with countries in the world […] to prevent the illegal shipment of B3 waste”. In addition, he expressed how ASEAN also faces a marine plastic waste issue in which, if not addressed immediately, will drastically affect the region’s marine ecosystem.

Public Discussion & Book Launching

On the 10th Anniversary of AICHR, ASC UGM is proud to present Public Discussion and Book Launching with the theme of “The Evolution of the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism: Institutional and Thematic Issues Within.”
The event will be held on Saturday, 16th November 2019, from 09.00-13.00 at Convention Hall, 4th floor, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada. Registration opens at 08.30 AM. This event is free entry.
With speakers:

Dr. Dafri Agussalim (Keynote Speaker) – Director of ASEAN Studies Center, Gadjah Mada University

Session 1:
H.E. Amb. Phassporn Sangasubana – Ambassador/Permanent Representative of Thailand to ASEAN
H.E. Amb. Ade Padmo Sarwono – Ambassador/Permanent Representative of Indonesia to ASEAN
H.E. Ms. Yuyun Wahyuningrum – Representative of Indonesia to AICHR

Session 2:
Ms. Desi Hanara – Southeast Asia Regional Coordinator, ASEAN Parliaments for Human Rights
H.E. Mr. Edmund Bon Tai Soon – Former Representative of Malaysia to AICHR
Ms. Rachel Arini Judhistari – East Asia and ASEAN Programme Manager; FORUM-ASIA

Please register at bit.ly/AICHRat10
If there is any inquiries, please contact us through,
CP: Zika (+62) 896 0152 8543

Press Release: Inclusive Education for Child Refugees

Last Saturday (12/10) ASEAN Studies Center, Sandya Institute, and PolicyLab held a joint event with theme centered around global refugee issues with specialized subjects in Asia. This event invited around 70 to 80 guests from various backgrounds and institutes to come and discuss the rising concern within refugees issues. To accommodate this event five speakers were invited to offer valuable insights to the problem.The overall discussion in the event was divided into three sessions, which firstly discussed about the current overview of global refugee crisis, then about its recent condition in Indonesia and lastly the rights of the refugee in terms of education.

In 2019 UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees) reported that there are 70.8 Million refugees worldwide, a significant rise from 65.4 Million refugees were noted last year. Many refugees were forced to move out from their homes and countries, displaced due to many reasons such as war, facing persecution, fleeing from genocides, natural disaster, etc. The number of refugees and asylum seekers varies in Asian and Oceanian countries, but in particular to Indonesia’s records of refugees and asylum seekers were outdated with the latest number reached 14,000 people and was held in immigration centers in various major cities in Indonesia such as Medan and Surabaya,in addition to that most of these refugees came from Afghanistan, Burma, Thailand, and Pakistan.

This raises the question of what rights the refugees and asylum seekers may receive during their stay inIndonesia, including the rights in receiving education in particular towards children refugees. Formal education is important for the children’s growth as it allows them to build sense of discipline, cognitive skills and satisfying their needs in socializing. Denying children these values most likely will hinder their growth & development in the future.

The Constitution of Indonesia guarantees every person regardless of their differences to receive their right in getting education, firmed through Human Rights Law in 1999where one of its clauses guarantee the right for every persons in Indonesia to receive education rights, therefore normatively this law also including refugees to become the subject of the law as well in receiving education rights. International Children protection law also provides the protection of children refugees on their rights to the education, with specific direction writtern in its preambule, ensuring them to get education while staying in Indonesia. Unfortunately this matter stays in the grey zone of Indonesian legal materials, as there is still no legal frameworks within that actually regulates if children refugees are allowed to attend schools or not, thus authority of such matters were mostly given towards local authorities in the are.

Interestingly, every local administration has their own perspectives on the matter. Some of them are tied to strict hierarchial culture where they will not do anything without a specific order. On the other hand, some took the initiative and starts to work together with NGOs and local schools to accommodate the education for children refugees. It was shown whenIndonesian Ministry of Education gave out circulars to education government offices all accross Indonesia to encourage them accommodating children refugee to local schools, however it is not very effective since local problems are often occupies their attention such as lack of funds, lack of manpower, or lack of infastructure thus making them prioritize local children instead of refugees.

Nevertheless, this shows the lack of policy unity within Indonesia as a decentralized political system still allows local authorities for not taking action at all due to various reasons that are still exist in the region, not to mention the fact that this matter still resides within the grey zone of Indonesia’s law therefore the legality in helping children refugees, while morally right, is still legally questioned.

It is confirmed – Jakarta remains the Capital of ASEAN

Written by Truston Yu

On Sunday 6 October at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia’s (ERIA) editors’ roundtable in Bangkok, ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi affirmed that the ASEAN headquarters will not be relocated and shall remain in Jakarta.

From the moment Indonesian President Joko Widodo first announced plans to relocate the country’s capital city until now, there have been numerous speculations on the future of the ASEAN Secretariat. Looking back with half a year of hindsight, this article examines the uncertainties that are now ascertained, and outlines potential elements of a blueprint for Jakarta as the capital of ASEAN.

In April almost immediately after incumbent Joko Widodo declared victory in the 2019 Indonesian Presidential Election, the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) announced plans to move the capital city from Jakarta to outsideJava.

In response to this announcement, the author published an article the following month analyzing the implications of such a move, identifying the future of the ASEAN Secretariat as a point of interest. The article argued that there was no need for an intergovernmental organization to be located in a national capital, not to mention relocating along with a national capital’s relocation. By that extension, Jakarta is set to remain as the seat of ASEAN.

On 26 August, two weeks after the inauguration of the new ASEAN Secretariat building, President Joko Widodo unveiled the location of Indonesia’s new capital city – in East Kalimantan spanning North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara.

Again, in response to such an announcement, this article paints an idealistic picture of the “post-capital” era Jakarta. And again, the said article also argued that ASEAN would not be moving out of Jakarta, this time citing the fact that the ASEAN had recently moved into a newly built Secretariat building.

This week, all the above propositions have come to be verified by the top diplomat of Southeast Asia – Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi.

Jakarta has been affirmed as the diplomatic capital of ASEAN as early as 2012, and this will remain unchanged in the foreseeable future, if not perpetuity. The ASEAN Secretariat has been entrenched in Jakarta since its establishment in 1981. On 8 August, 52 years since the Bangkok Declaration that gave birth to the ASEAN was signed, the brand new IDR 500 billion ASEAN Secretariat building was inaugurated. ASEAN now has a bigger, newer and taller building right next to the old one, which was a factor cited by Lim in his speech, “And we believe that Jakarta will be the capital of ASEAN.”

Now that Jakarta no longer takes the spotlight as the national capital, there would be greater freedom and challenges in its own quest for development. As for Indonesia, this new arrangement could be interpreted as positive towards downplaying the perception of Indonesian dominance in the regional bloc. Indonesia is, after all, a founding member of the ASEAN, its biggest member state, economic and military power and even housed the ASEAN Secretariat in the foreign ministry between 1976-1981 before it moved to what is now called the Heritage Building at Jl. Sisingamangaraja.

Having the presidential office and ministry buildings migrated does not mark the end of Jakarta; and it certainly does not mean an abandonment of Southeast Asia’s regional capital and biggest megalopolis. In fact, the Jakarta government owes an obligation to the wider international community just as Geneva of Switzerland or New York of the United States does. As the host of some seventy missions to the ASEAN, part of Jakarta’s continued responsibility includes the display of hospitality. Jakarta remains to be the face of the Republic, even more so than its new capital. From a domestic point of view, Jakarta bears this burden of presenting Indonesia to the world and the Jakarta administration is pressured to demonstrate good governance.

Indeed, Lim likened Jakarta to New York: “We would like to see this like what we have in New York where the United Nations [is seated] and the ASEAN Secretariat will be the anchor for the ASEAN capital in Jakarta.”

Being a regional capital also means it is not only Indonesians who should be able to contribute to shaping the future of Indonesia’s biggest city, all Southeast Asians should have a voice in building this regional hub. From Indonesia’s perspective, this continual development of Jakarta into Asia’s world city would be a brilliant way to strengthen and display its soft power. It is also in the interest of the wider Southeast Asian community as a whole to elevate the status of this Southeast Asian hub, bringing it on par with Geneva and asserting ASEAN’s significance in the international arena.

After some ten years the legislature, ministries and embassies in Jakarta would all be relocated to Kalimantan; what remains are the Secretariat, affiliated organizations and offices of permanent representatives.

What would the new Jakarta look like in ten years time? Perhaps this is a new page to be written together by Jakartans, Indonesians and Southeast Asians alike.


Truston Yu is a Southeast Asianist from the West Java town of Cirebon. Truston has worked as a research assistant on Southeast Asian politics at the University of Hong Kong and at Keio University. Truston’s research interest also includes Public International Law, making ASEAN Studies a unique intersection of the two disciplines.Truston could be reached through e-mail trustonyuofficial@gmail.com.


Written by Muhammad Ammar Hidayahtulloh (Picture: Jeffrey Beall)


Geographically speaking, ASEAN region is one of the most vulnerable regions to disaster in the world. There are several tectonic plates across ASEAN region that potentially cause the earthquake, volcanic eruption, and tsunami. In addition, ASEAN faces the increasing extreme climate events in frequency and intensity due to climate variation and change. Therefore, nearly all ASEAN Member States (AMS) have experienced natural disaster causing the severe devastation in the recent years, such as Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, Yogyakarta Earthquake in 2006, Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Thailand Floods in 2011, Cyclone Haiyan in 2013, Bagan Earthquake in 2016, and Central Sulawesi Earthquake and Tsunami in last September 2018.

Given that situation, it is sufficient to say that the effective and efficient disaster management is highly needed for ASEAN region. The regional mechanism on disaster management must be managed and accelerated in comprehensive manner. Otherwise, 635.9 million inhabitants living in the region are threatened by the disaster.

ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community: An Overview

The Declaration of ASEAN Concord II or well-known as Bali Concord II was adopted by ten ASEAN Leaders during the 9th ASEAN Summit on 7th October 2003 in Bali Indonesia. It became the legal basis for ASEAN Community comprising three pillars by 2020, namely political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation. Yet, the strong belief and commitment of ASEAN leaders had brought ASEAN to accelerate the establishment of ASEAN Community on 2015 by adopting the Cebu Declaration in 2007.

The first ASCC Blueprint was introduced in 2009 which stated the prominent goal of the ASCC is to establish a people-centered and socially responsible community. Within the framework of ASCC, ASEAN is characterized to social welfare and protection. In the following, second ASCC Blueprint was introduced in the end of 2015 to realize the ASEAN Vision 2025, continuing the effective implementation of its predecessor in developing and strengthening the socio-cultural cooperation in ASEAN. It includes the commitment of ASEAN to enhance its capacity in realizing a disaster-resilient ASEAN that is able to anticipate, respond, cope, adapt, and build back better, smarter, and faster.

Challenges and Dilemma

            The world’s politics is no longer talking about security in very static manner. The survival of state has been challenged with the shifting of traditional security threat to non-traditional security threat.Non-traditional security issues have become significantly common in almost all parts of society and have gained its concern in global political arena after 9/11 tragedy. It is reaffirmed by Spijkers (2007), he described that the security threat is not always military in nature, but there is other threat which is the forces of nature that threaten the existence of large groups of individuals.

However, human security in ASEAN is still considered as debatable despite its current development of regional mechanism on human rights. A so-called the ASEAN Way, is a fundamental norm of ASEAN and for that reason ASEAN also established. Within the ASEAN Way norm, it constructed the norms of respect for national sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs, the non-use of force, and a consensus-based decision-making mechanism. The ASEAN Way norm in itself has both conflictual and harmonious characteristics, and is both a challenge and an opportunity for the region.

The case of 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar was evident to explain the ASEAN Way norm as a challenge for the region. The non-interference principle remains a major block for ASEAN in taking further action in the aftermath of that disaster. The junta’s regime in Myanmar rejected the international offers of aid relief due to the state-centric view on security. The fear of external party to gain access to the country perceived as the more serious threat against the state security in compare to the security of thousands of victims who were in dehydration, hunger and dying situation.

ASEAN Regional Mechanism in Enhancing Disaster-Resilient Community

            The case of 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar should have not happened in the very first place. ASEAN has envisioned the people-centered community in the socio-cultural pillar which means, the security of the people of ASEAN should be central in ASEAN’s agenda. Therefore, the ASEAN Way norm should be also well-actualized in addressing the non-traditional security issues, especially disaster events that might be threatening the whole region.

Rum (2016), the AMS’s sovereignty can be upheld without neglecting the security of the people through establishing the regime of regional disaster management as there are norms by which influence state to do so. Through setting up the regime and institutionalizing the disaster management cooperation will also address the other aforementioned challenges. Therefore, it is clear that ASCC is established in the very first place to be a platform of ASEAN in tackling the issue of natural disaster.

The first attempt of ASEAN in enhancing the cooperation in disaster management can be traced back to the 1st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Disaster Management (AMMDM) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 7th December 2004. The ACDM comprising Heads of National Disaster Management Organizations (NDMOs) of AMS was established as the result of the key decisions made out of the meeting. The ACDM was mandated to start the negotiation of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER). AADMER which signed on 26th July 2005 and came into force on 24th December 2009, is one of the cornerstones of the ASEAN commitment in building disaster-resilient community.

In supporting the realization of disaster-resilient community, the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) was established under the AADMER by adopting the agreement on 17th November 2011. AHA Centre becomes the main actor, together with the AMMDM and ACMD in disaster management cooperation. In this manner, the author signifies the prominent role of AHA Centre to reduce losses to disasters and coordinate ASEAN’s collective response to disasters.

There are two other important legal frameworks adopted by ASEAN in order to strengthen its commitment regarding this matter, namely ASEAN Declaration on Enhancing Cooperation in Disaster Management (2013) and ASEAN Declaration on One ASEAN, One Response: ASEAN Responding to Disasters as One in the Region and outside the Region (2016). For further work, AHA Centre formulated the ASEAN Joint Disaster Response Plan (AJDRP) which endorsed at the 29th Meeting of the ACDM held in Manado, Indonesia on 11th October 2016. By the implementation of AJDRP, AHA Centre is able to: (i) increasing the speed of the ASEAN response by supporting AMS in making timely and informed decisions, (ii) expanding the scale of the ASEAN response by strengthening the ASEAN Standby Arrangements, and (iii) enhancing the solidarity of the ASEAN response by strengthening coordination and cooperation among AMS, ASEAN partners, and other related actors.

Case of Earthquake and Tsunami in Central Sulawesi

The ASEAN region, for the umpteenth time hit by a disaster event specifically the M 7.4 earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Indonesia that was occurred on 28th September 2018. AHA Centre operated in Palu for more than a month after the disaster hit Central Sulawesi. Through AHA Centre and the One ASEAN, One Response, ASEAN had contributed the most significant assistance post-disaster by coordinating the responses from other AMS, from the financial assistance into the other form of humanitarian assistance.In ensuring the response of AHA Centre fast and right on the target, it also supported by the ASEAN Secretary-General, Japan through Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF), International Humanitarian NGO such as Map Action which based in the United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU) and also the UN Agencies, such as the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

Move Forward

Lacking of disaster management cooperation is fatal and potentially endangering the people in the region. Along with the unity of effort and the spirit of ASEAN, ASCC through AHA Centre and other regional mechanism can realize a disaster-resilient community without undermining the AMS’ sovereignty. Today, ASEAN is the global leader in regional disaster management cooperation by being able to anticipate, respond, cope, adapt, and build back better, smarter, and faster with the existing regional mechanisms. Additionally, it becomes a hope of ASEAN that it is able to respond outside the region as one under the framework of One ASEAN, One Response.