Entries by syukron.subkhi

Chile-ASEAN Future Perspectives Dialogues

“The Chile-ASEAN Future Perspectives Dialogues” carrying the theme of theme “Socio-Cultural Identity and Community Building: Experience for Better Integration” was held on Tuesday, 7 September 2021. The Dialogue was coordinated by the Embassy of Chile and invited the ASEAN Studies Center UGM along with the Centre for International Studies of the University of Chile, and the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA).

This Dialogue commenced with opening remarks from Carolina Valdivia, Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Chile, Jorge Sahd, Director of the Center for International Studies of the University of Chile, and Gustavo Ayares, the Ambassador of Chile to Indonesia an ASEAN. All three speakers emphasized the importance of strengthening collaboration and cooperation between Chile and ASEAN to formulate new perspectives and collaborative plans among the two regions.

The discussion was moderated by Ambassador Gustavo Ayares and invited Nicole Jenne, Center of International Studies at UC, Guilia Ajmone Marsa, ERIA and Dr Riza Noer Arfani, ASEAN Studies Center UGM. The speakers highlighted several key messages including, ways acknowledging the socio-cultural ties shared by both regions and the developments which have stemmed from our shared history, the importance of community engagement, and economy as an entry point towards greater and tighter cooperation. Dr Riza highlighted the historical trajectories to achieve a foundation for community building between America Latin and ASEAN.

The Dialogue also discussed several priority areas of cooperation including digital development, economic perspectives, socio-cultural ties, connectivity, and future initiatives for ASEAN-Chile Integration. Further, the discussion underscored the importance of working together and continuous efforts to form a meaningful engagement between Chile and ASEAN member states. It is hoped that cooperation from these various sectors can create a mutually beneficial relationship for both regions.

Report by:
– Citta Azarine Azhar
– Munawar Wahid S
(Media Interns at ASC UGM)

Roundtable Discussion on ASEAN Women and Children Protection through Civil Society and Academic Participation

To continue the Public Lectures which was held on Monday, 30 August 2021 on ASEAN Women and Children Protection through Civil Society and Academic Participation, the ASEAN Studies Center at Universitas Gadjah Mada invited groups of academia and think-tanks and CSOs working in the field of child protection and women empowerment on Tuesday, 31 August 2021. These entities came together for a roundtable discussion to discuss the common challenges in realising the protection of women in the national and regional level, whether already established networks were available, issues that have the ACWC yet to cover and in what ways the academia as well as CSOs could support this effort.

This Roundtable Discussion was held to build a stronger engagement between the ACWC, CSOs as well as the academia and was briefly opened by Ms. Yuyum Fhahni Paryani as the lead moderator. Participants of the discussion were then divided into three panels. The first panel delved into the topic of the CSO (Women) Support to the Work of the ACWC which was facilitated by Ms. Vicky Barreto, a Development Specialist. The second panel discussed CSO (Children) Support to the Work of the ACWC the discussion of which was facilitated by Mr. Hafizh Noer, an Associate Fellow at Policy Lab. The last panel was facilitated by Mr. Tunggul Wicaksono, Research Manager at ASEAN Studies Center at Universitas Gadjah Mada discussing the topic of Think-tank and Academia Support to the Work of the ACWC.

Having discussed in separate groups, participants regathered for a Townhall discussion to share the output of each group. A discussant of the Session, H.E. Wan Noraidah binti Wan Mohd Zain, Director of Children Division at the Department of Social Welfare in Malaysia, noted the high interest for continued engagement to take place, the need to stablish an overview on areas of expertise among CSOs and Think Tank in women and child issues to further discuss possible methods of collaboration.

The roundtable discussion was convened to help map and overcome the current challenges of the ACWC, amid the pandemic and increasing priorities of the ACWC in implementing their work plan. The importance of working together was also noted by the meeting. In order to achieve this, the support from ASEAN Member States was noted as imminent.

The roundtable discussion convened at 13.00 and ended at 16.45.

Public Lecture on ASEAN Women and Children Protection through Civil Society and Academic Participation

The ASEAN Studies Center of Universitas Gadjah Mada, with the sipport of the Netherlands Embassy in Jakarta has conducted a series of discussions regarding the ASEAN Commission on the Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) to map possible engagement efforts with the aim of strengthening the promotion and protection of women and children in the region. The series of discussions have commenced since October 2020 following the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the ACWC.

On Monday, 30 August 2021 a Public Lecture titled “ASEAN Women and Children Protection through Civil Society and Academic Participation” was held to further map potential roles that CSOs and think tanks can play to further advocate for the of women and children. The Lecture was officially opened by the opening remarks from Dr. Dafri Agussalim as the Executive Director of ASEAN Studies Center UGM, and H.E. Amb. Lambert Grijns as the Ambassador of the Kingdom of The Netherlands to Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and ASEAN.

This Public Lecture was attended by approximately 60 participants from across ASEAN members. Moderated by Ms. Yuyum Fhahni Paryani, former Indonesian Representative for the ACWC on Children’s Rights, the discussion invited four panelists namely Dato Paduka Dr Haji Junaidi bin Haji Abd. Rahman as the ACWC Chair and Brunei Darussalam’s Representative for Children’s Rights, Ms. Yanti Kusumawardhani, Indonesia’s Representative to the ACWC for Children’s Rights, Ms. Santi Kusumaningrum, Director of PUSKAPA – Center on Child Protection and Wellbeing at the University of Indonesia, and Ms. Rachel Tan, as Program Officer and focal point for the Women Gender and Diversity Working Group of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN).

The discussion highlighted a number of issues including the role of CSOs and the academic community which is to support the State in undertaking the obligation as duty bearer in fulfilling the rights of Children, to contribute to CRC Alternative Report CRC in order to support the government efforts on implementing CRC including ensuring child participation, to undertake research on the situation and well-being of women and children, and contribute on implementing Concluding Observation of CRC beneficial as foundation works on measures to child rights realizations.

The academic community can also come together by directing the government towards three main areas of support for women and children: social protection, family support and specialized protection. These points are to be included in policy briefs/suggestions to inform policy makers of an added layer of vulnerability and risk experienced by children due to miscalculated policies.

The importance of participatory approaches was also highlighted during the discussion, especially on issues concerning refugee women and children. The ACWC can play a strategic role in engaging and consolidating the many different fronts and actors to prevent miscalculated policies from being found.

The discussion also invited discussants, namely H.E. Yuyun Wahyuningrum, the Representative of Indonesia to AICHR, Mr. Ali Aulia Ramly, Child Protection Specialist of UNICEF Indonesia, and Ms. Audrey Lee, Senior Program Manager at International Women’s Right Action Watch Asia-Pacific (IWRAW-AP).

The discussion was closed by Ms. Yuyum Fhani Paryani as the moderator with a summary of the discussion which was carried out.

Network of ASEAN-China Think-tanks (NACT) Working Group Meeting

“Public-Private Partnership in 30-year ASEAN-China Public Health Cooperation”

Friday, July 9th 2021, ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada (ASC UGM) in collaboration with Chinese Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) has organized the NACT Working Group Meeting on “Public-Private Partnership in 30-year ASEAN-China Public Health Cooperation”. On behalf of both NACT Indonesia and NACT China, Dr. Wawan Mas’udi, the Dean of Faculty of Social and Political Sciences Universitas Gadjah Mada, delivered an opening speech to officially begin the meeting.

This working group meeting highlighted some issues related to the public health in China and Southeast Asia during the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic, however, does not only present challenges, but also gives opportunities to reform in what ways we can manage the public health, as it is one of the most important sectors that should be concerned by the governments in the region.

During the event, nine country representatives presented their national perspectives and current conditions in relation to the public-private partnerships in health sector. The presentations specifically covered the situations of China (two separate presentation by Prof. Qiao Youlin and Dr. Zhou Xingwu), Indonesia (by Dr. Luqman-nul Hakim), Myanmar (by Dr. Daw Khin Ma Ma Myo), Lao PDR (by Ms. Sounanda Bolivong), Malaysia (by Dr. Tan Ching Siang), Singapore (by Dr. Qian Jiwei), Vietnam (by Dr. Ha Thi Hong Van) and the Philippines (by Ricardo Benjamin D. Osorio and Kristina Azela B. Diza).

Through the presentations, it can be seen that several ASEAN Member States are experiencing circumstances which cannot be borne solely by the government alone. As most of these countries stated that the governments have limited resources—particularly in financing. Therefore, public-private partnerships have been seen as viable alternatives for the government in addressing financial issues. In the context of Covid-19 pandemic, these countries noted how the business communities have helped the government in mitigating the health crisis, from donating funds for the health care services and vaccine rollouts, providing medical supplies, to actively helping to maintain the stability of the food supply chain. However, in certain countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia, internal measures should be taken to fix and build a comprehensive system of mechanisms and policies that regulate the public-private partnerships, particularly in the health sector.

The meeting also discussed the possibility to formulate policy recommendations for the governments in ASEAN and China, that could eventually unite the sources, initiatives to ensure the well-being of citizens during this pandemic. The crisis we are all in certainly call for immediate discussion on how both public and private sectors can come together to tackle the mounting cases, and to prepare some strategic plans to accelerate the socio-economic recovery. “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much” as Dr. Dafri said while closing the working group meeting seemed to remind and at the same time invite the government, private enterprises, and civil society organisations to strengthen their constructive interactions in enhancing regional cooperation on public health sector.


Reported by Martin Alistair

Program and Research Intern

ASEAN’s Diplomacy: Walking A Tightrope

By Tunggul Wicaksono

Since the military ousted and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the series of events in Myanmar poses several challenges to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; the ununified response from its member states and how to formulate a middle-ground policy, not to mention the vagueness principle of non-interference. In this regard, ASEAN’s diplomacy has been put to the test, while its reputation is at stake.

Up to now, more than 800 people had lost their lives following the nationwide unarmed protests against the junta. Earlier, Myanmar’s government declared martial law that described those defying military authority there as terrorists and set up a military tribunal for attacks on the security forces. Despite the military crackdown and the mobility pressure, ASEAN has not taken an immediate response to the crisis. The United Nations Security Council has condemned the violence, nonetheless.

The coup can be considered as tarnishing of ASEAN’s image among the reportage of mass violence and human rights violation. This, in turn, hinders the pursuit of a forward-looking strategy, including encouraging ASEAN member states to safeguard human rights as mentioned in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. The way of thinking that some conflicts are happened to be “internal affairs” rather than to take collective action is proof that ASEAN was not adequately prepared for such circumstances.

During that time, ASEAN had not recognized regional stability, which depends on human rights and the rule of law. When the Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting convened on 2 March 2021, the bloc failed to successfully condemn the coup, let alone address human rights violations. The chair’s statement seemed to only recall the normative principles of the ASEAN Charter without making any relevance to the ongoing crisis.

However, Indonesia’s initiative to discuss the situation in Myanmar through a Leaders’ Meeting has taken ASEAN’s diplomacy to the next level. All but three (The Philippines, Thailand, and Laos) leaders of the ten ASEAN member states attended the summit. The leaders gathered in Jakarta with Myanmar’s Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, a commander-in-chief who led the military takeover and plunged Myanmar into unrest and turmoil.

Afterward, the meeting issued “Five-Point Consensus”; 1) there shall be immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties shall exercise utmost restraint, 2) constructive dialogue among all parties concerned shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people, 3) a special envoy of the ASEAN Chair shall facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the Secretary General of ASEAN, 4) ASEAN shall provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre and 5) the special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.

On a side note, Indonesia could have taken further action by investigating crimes against humanity in Myanmar. As a state party to the UN Convention Against Torture, Indonesia has a legal obligation to prosecute or extradite a suspected perpetrator on its territory. But, given the circumstances, its political strategy might not be as effective as buying more time for the prolonged crisis.

Meanwhile, regarding the fifth point, there is a lot of criticism triggered by escalating conflicts, democracy setbacks, and severe human rights violations. None of the member states can guarantee the effectiveness of the policy recommendation. First, the concerning factors could be to what extent ASEAN should intervene, considering its members’ belief in non-interference. Sadly, this concern was expressed by a neighboring country, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who said that Myanmar’s crisis is “their internal affairs”. Thailand worries more about the coronavirus outbreak due to the coup at the borders, despite solid evidence of military atrocities.

Second, free-riding countries. Some member states may become more reluctant to rely on other countries for strategic approaches while contributing to no action. ASEAN must treat Myanmar’s crisis as a non-zero-sum game, and by this approach, of course, there is no universally accepted solution. But one thing for sure, the mediator needs to find a common interest. It could be by maintaining regional stability that is beneficial for all, leveraging ASEAN’s human rights mechanism to ensure the protections that meet international standards, or, more specifically, buying more time to hold an election based on democratic principle assisted by ASEAN’s envoys. Hence, win-win solution.

Until this time, ASEAN has yet to compromise the reconciliation mission to Myanmar, let alone to plan a strategic resolution. Most recently, a scheduled trip between Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Dato Erywan Yusof and ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi to prepare envisioned dispatch of a special envoy to Myanmar has derived a fatal blunder. They had already crossed the line when the meeting with Gen. Hlaing was not accompanied by prior notification and briefed by ASEAB foreign ministers. They also failed to meet in person with the country’s detained leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Moreover, the ASEAN Secretariat released a report following the visitation and mentioned the assumed titles of Myanmar junta Gen. Hlaing, indicating an open recognition of the junta. At the same time, ASEAN only maintains its recognition of the Aung San Suu Kyi government. The report was later removed eventually. Shortly, the diplomatic mission somehow turned into a backfire operation.

Regarding the special envoy, ASEAN has entrusted Brunei Darussalam to pick the candidate, although the process is relatively stagnant. One way or another, Myanmar must accept the candidacy as soon as possible. The more time wasted, the higher possibility that the consensus left unimplemented.

Such developments to tackle Myanmar’s turbulence have shed light that ASEAN lacks a vivid strategy and lacks preparation. In some way, ASEAN’s diplomacy needs to be reinvented. This could be as plain as recognizing state-to-state relations. Accommodating attitude towards the other, finding the gap in between, and encouraging collective action could also be a breakthrough in outreach efforts. Given the narrative, there is still a chance to restore ASEAN’s credibility to manage the crisis properly, rather than persistently hold a never-ending talkfest.


About Writer

  • Tunggul Wicaksono is a Research Manager at ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada. He can be reached through e-mail at tunggulwicaksono@ugm.ac.id.

CSO Consultation on the Rights of Women and Children in ASEAN

On Friday 30 April 2021, the ASEAN Studies Center of Universitas Gadjah Mada in collaboration with the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and supported by The Netherland Embassy in Jakarta held a Round Table Discussion (RTD) between the ASEAN Commission of Women and Children (ACWC) and CSOs across ASEAN member states.

The discussion was officially opened by the opening remarks from Mr. Dafri Agussalim as the Executive Director of ASEAN Studies Center UGM, Ms. Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu as the Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA, and Prof. Roel van der Veen as a representative of Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands in Indonesia.

This forum also constructed a consultation with the CSOs on the rights of women and children in ASEAN that has a purpose to facilitate discussions between CSOs working in human rights, particularly on women’s and children’s right in order to increase the involvement of CSOs in the work of women and children’s rights in ASEAN with ACWC. It is expected to formulate outcomes in the form of recommendations for ACWC workplan 2021-2025, ideal working mechanism between ACWC and CSOs by strengthening its ToR, and an outlook for ASEAN CSOs involvement in the works of ACWC.

In opening the RTD, H.E. Yuyum Fhahni Paryani, Indonesian Representative of the ACWC (Children), shed light on the work, success, and challenges of the ACWC through its ten years of establishment, and highlighted the importance of collaboration among CSO to promote and uphold women and children. The opening presentation was then followed by the RTD, which was navigated by Yuniyanti Chuzaifah, a former National Commission on Violence against Women (KOMNAS Perempuan), as lead facilitator.

The RTD consisted of three panels that discussed issues pertinent to enhance further engagement between CSOs on women and children from across the region. The forum was divided into three parallel panels. Thi first delved into the topic of the “ACWC Work-plan and its alignment with the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework” which was facilitated by Karina Larasati BR, a senior fellow of Policy Lab. The second panel touched on the subject of a “Reporting Mechanism of Cases and an ASEAN Live Database of Violations against Women and Children” the discussion of which was facilitated by Desi Hanara, the Southeast Asia Regional Coordinator of Freedom of Religion or Belief, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). The last panel, through the facilitation of facilitated Rachel Arinii Judhistari, FORUM-ASIA, discussed the “ACWC – CSOs Engagement Mechanism”. The RTD aimed to provide a consultation session between CSOs working on the rights of women and children in ASEAN and their representatives at the regional level, while at the same time providing input to the work plan of the ACWC.

A Townhall Session, as facilitated by Lead Facilitator, Yuniyanti Chuzaifah, collated all points of discussion, input, and possible ways forward towards a better engagement between ACWC and CSOs in promoting and protecting women and children. In light of the unrest in Myanmar, participants of the RTD took part in a photo session, with the three fingers salute pose, as popularised by activists in Myanmar.

#ASEAN #SoutheastAsia #ASC #UGM #ACWC #CSO #RoundtableDiscussion #BringingASEANCloserToYou

Bincang ASEAN “Myanmar Protests and Unrest: A Test of ASEAN Diplomacy”

On Friday, 23 April 2021, ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada held a Webinar Series titled “Myanmar Protests and Unrest: A Test of ASEAN Diplomacy” which was led by Managing Director, Yulida Nuraini Santoso. The discussion highlighted the campaign of #FreeSawLin and diplomatic efforts by ASEAN member states during this crucial time, especially as the member states were scheduled to gather at the ASEAN Leader’s Meeting on Saturday, 24 April 2021.

Nicolas Jude Martinez, a representative of the #FreeSawLin campaign from the Global Campus Coalition for Human Rights (GCCHR) explained that the campaign was launched to bring together people from all regions to fight for equality, restorative justice, and democracy, especially in education. The arbitrary arrest of Saw Lin Htet, a citizen of Myanmar, who happened to be studying human rights is just one out of the many cases of people who had been affected by the restriction of freedom to education by the military Junta. Education is the gateway to livelihood and this in turn helps to create an economic safety net which is much needed for communities at risk.

From a regional point of view, Dr. Rizal Sukma, Central for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia, and former Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia for UK, Ireland, and IMO explained that if any change were to happen, this would greatly depend on the Leaders Meeting and the negotiation package put forward by ASEAN member states. Despite the large criticism of member states acknowledging the military Junta by welcoming them at the Leaders meeting, he argues that this is in fact necessary for a meaningful dialogue to take place and serves a greater chance for killings and fatalities to come to an end.

The discussion also discussed the coup being a momentum for revisiting the ASEAN Charter which had for a long time been critiqued by the international community for excluding meaningful notions of responding towards human rights above Centrality and the mandate that the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights can play in a situation as such. Dr Rizal states that, “we need more than just sanctions, we need the support of the international community. But for now, what is most important is how to stop the killings and how ASEAN can come together to assist in order to create a safe environment for a meaningful dialogue.”

The full webinar discussion can be accessed on our YouTube Channel, titled Bincang ASEAN “Myanmar Protests and Unrest: A Test of ASEAN Diplomacy” by following the link below:


#ASEAN #SoutheastAsia #Myanmar #Coup #CSIS #GlobalCampusCoalitionForHumanRights #WhatIsHappeningInMyanmar #FreeSawlin #ASEANStudiesCenter #ASC #UGM

Research Collaboration ASEAN Studies Center UGM – Center for Policy Analysis and Development (BPPK) for Asia-Pacific and Africa

Indonesia will assume the chair of ASEAN Chairmanship in 2023 and aim at a reviving the people-centered ASEANvalue in the effort to ground the concepts and benefits of the regional cooperation. However, considering the various challenges which have occurred in recent years, and notwithstanding the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the economic and health sectors, this may prove to be testing. 

In line with efforts to recover the economy in the region and the importance of Indonesia playing a leading role in its chairmanship, the Agency for the Study and Policy Development of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia considers that one of the agendas for ASEAN’s cultivated sectors in need of further strengthening and developing is the optimization of economic cooperation. The sector of e-Commerce, particularly SMEs, developed into a buffer for the economy, has proven resilient in facing the global health and economic crisis. MSMEs in ASEAN have survived in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic with the advantages of their digital transaction services which are generally quite easy to get around and accommodate the need for implementing health protocols compared to other retail sectors that are direct selling. According to data, the MSME sector employs a workforce of up to 60-80% of total employment in ASEAN and has proven the ability to co-exist in the new normal era. 

In accordance with the duties and functions of the BPPK, the Center for Policy Analysis and Development for Asia-Pacific and Africa annually conducts collaborative study partnerships with partner universities related to issues that arise, both in the regional and global scope. The partnership review activity is intended to gather input and findings that can be processed into policy strategy recommendations related to the issues in question.

Pulung Setiosuci Perbawani, MM – Dr. Dafri Agussalim

This year, the ASEAN Studies Center UGM is appointed as partner in a research cooperation with the theme “Indonesia’s Chairmanship in ASEAN 2023: Optimizing Strengthening the ASEAN E-Commerce Sector in the Context of Accelerating Economic Recovery”.

On Thursday, 8 April 2021 a signing took place on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the ASEAN Studies Center UGM and Center for Policy Analysis and Development (BPPK) for Asia-Pacific and Africa at the Grhatama Building, Regional Library and Archives Service D.I. Yogyakarta. The signing was carried out by the Head of Center for Policy Analysis and Development for Asia-Pacific and Africa, Muhammad Takdir together with the Executive Director of ASC UGM Dr. Dafri Agussalim, who was accompanied by Yulida Nuraini Santoso, M.Sc as the Managing Director of ASC UGM and Pulung Setiosuci Perbawani S.IP, MM as lead researcher of the research project.

Dr. Dafri Agussalim Director of ASEAN Studies Center UGM

#ASEAN #SoutheastAsia #ASC #ASEANStudiesCenter #PSA #UGM #Research #bppkkemlu #aspasaf #BRINGINGASEANCLOSERTOYOU


Refugees and Asylum Seekers in ASEAN: Suggested Remedies

By Yulida Nuraini Santoso and Gading Gumilang Putra

Human rights groups worldwide are startled by the regression of support towards refugees and asylum seekers. Malaysia had recently deported over 1000 migrants to Myanmar, notwithstanding Kuala Lumpur High Court orders to stop repatriation in fear of further persecution upon arrival temporarily. This number includes a number of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identified persons of concern (POC) belonging to five ethnic minorities facing persecution in Myanmar. Despite claims that the deportees excluded refugees and asylum seekers and that all had agreed to return voluntarily, the truth remains that Malaysia has hindered international human rights organizations from accessing its immigration detention centers since August 2019. There is no clarity regarding the status of the deportees and the motive behind such a decision.

Malaysia has yet to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention. It does not recognize asylum seekers nor refugees but has allowed a large population to stay on humanitarian grounds. It hosts at least 175,000 refugees and asylum seekers, most of whom come from Myanmar but have not been granted any legal status and remain unable to work or enroll in government schools. Due to this, refugees and asylum seekers who have been granted entrance have been detained as “illegal migrants” and face the risk of being deported despite being registered by the UNHCR as Persons of Concern (POC). In the past, Malaysia has also been known to refusing the arrival of boats carrying desperate Rohingya refugees when its neighboring recipient country, Indonesia, decided to welcome them in Aceh. Malaysia claims this was necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

Myanmar recently peaked in headlines due to the coup d’état. In early February, the military seized control after the general election won Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party. This caused the military-backed opposition to claim that the results were frauds. With the military now in power and the recent deportation setting a precedent, we question why ASEAN has continuously failed to address this recurring problem? Despite Suu Kyi’s popularity, the civilian government has repeatedly refused to cooperate meaningfully with UN rights investigators’ pursuit of accountability for violations, including the persecution of refugees and asylum seekers causing them to flee. To this end, what workable actions can international communities take part in to move the issue of refugees and asylum seekers higher on the agenda of ASEAN policymakers?

The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is the only body to respond to the growing issue of refugees. The body was officially inaugurated in October 2009 with the initial focus on human rights promotion, but not the investigation of complaints of human rights violations. Being the first and a milestone for ASEAN at the time, it was deemed “the most prominent regional cooperation group in [South] East Asia”[1]. However, little has been done to develop a coordinated, comprehensive, and actionable plan that addresses both the proximate problems, such as the ongoing boat crisis and root problems concerning the Rohingya, to this day. Many argue that the root cause for the lack of response is influenced by the ASEAN Way.[2] Others blame AICHR’s Terms of Reference (TOR),[3] where a formal mandate to sanction human rights abusers is missing. Instead, it plays the role of mediator with civil society organizations (CSOs), formulates strategies to promote confirmation of international legal instruments, build capacities of member states, offer consultative services, and participate in conferences, discussions, and consultations.

Most of AICHR’s activities are held by organizations, forums, or networks that have helped them remain relevant, horizontally. However, these engagements are not as in-depth as most would prefer, as AICHR is restricted in the engagements they may conduct. To help, the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre), the nearest ASEAN entity to resemble a working leg of ASEAN’s humanitarian approach, distributes relief or conducts need assessments where needed. Like AICHR, their mandate pivots on the consensus of all member states. Therefore, it is not a surprise that AICHR will continue to be questioned in the future if its TOR is not reviewed to include meaningful and workable clauses. The process of mainstreaming human rights in ASEAN is crucial as it depends on this. In the long run, it must establish itself as the most authoritative organ for human rights protection in the region if it wishes to remain relevant.

Nonetheless, there are several available opportunities to help remedy this situation. Firstly, to appropriately address the statelessness of Rohingya through ASEAN mechanisms, particularly the Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) from an international humanitarian point of view. The topic has been avoided mainly due to sensitivity. However, without appropriately responding to the core of the issue, namely persecution, refugees and asylum seekers will continue to live in limbo. In 2019, two high-level visits to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, were conducted to conduct a Preliminary Needs Assessment (PNA). However, these visits were government-facilitated, focused on the repatriation without addressing the potential harm of further persecution, and had not consulted international humanitarian agencies working directly with refugees and asylum seekers themselves. As a result, the assessments have been heavily criticized by global humanitarian communities as being “misleading.”

Secondly, a regional instrument or body is to be established to provide protection specifically to refugees if any meaningful change is to occur. This body shall consult with experts, relevant agencies, CSOs, academics, and especially the refugee community to achieve solutions targeted at emergency responses, access to healthcare, livelihood initiatives, alternative pathways of migration, dignified repatriation, etc.

Thirdly, to call on states who have yet to grant access to international agencies, government social agencies, and NGOs for refugees/asylum seekers who are denied entry to the territory, the necessary legal representations. This should also include monitoring mechanisms for detainees.

Fourthly, to continue to work with governments through capacity-building programs on access to remedies and asylum. This can be aimed at judicial bodies, refugees, paralegals, and community interpreters.

Fifthly, to advocate for governments to consider providing civil documentation, such as birth certificates, and, further, to recognize the refugee status documented by the UNHCR. It is worth noting that the provision of birth certificates for refugees born in receiving countries is not necessarily a citizenship grant. It simply allows for protection and serves as a formal recognition of one’s refugee status.

Lastly, ASEAN must heighten its engagement with the public to address issues of refugees and asylum seekers. This includes partnerships with universities to create awareness and take part in protection measures and initiate solutions such as Model ASEAN meetings (MAM) initiated by the ASEAN Foundation. Governments can also consider issuing policies based on policy briefs, joint statements, Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), and consultations.



[1]     Gamez, Kimberly Ramos. 2017. “Examining the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR): The Case Study of the Rohingya Crisis”. Tilburg University, Netherlands. Pg. 40 citation no. 157.

[2]    Op.Cit. Pg. 7 citation no. 5.

[3]    Up.Cit. Pg. 8 citation no. 13.


About writers:

  • Yulida Nuraini Santoso is the Managing Director of the ASEAN Studies Center at Universitas Gadjah Mada, with researches and areas of interest surrounding the ASEAN Political-Security Community and transnationalism. The researcher can be reached through yulidanurainisantoso@ugm.ac.id.
  • Gading Gumilang Putra is the National Information and Advocacy Officer for Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Indonesia. His work includes advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers and can be contacted at gading@jrs.or.id.


Norms Competing, East or West in ASEAN

By Seon Young Yang

Political pundits, scholars, and diplomats have been inculcated with steadfast notions, i.e., norms and rules-based manners. Led by the school of liberalism, the values of multilateralism and international cooperation have been kept for decades as the ground rules to deter unnecessary bloodshed. Multilateralism, arguably spearheaded by the West, has been the unwavering doctrine in which the international and regional organizations, including the UN, EU, and ASEAN, have followed suit.

The invincible truth is that nothing lasts forever. Norms and rules-based frameworks are no exception. The United States, for example, the champion of these notions, cannot avoid reprimand as the Trump administration has caused upheavals in the multilateral trading system and in the international pledges to protect the green planet. Another champion, the United Kingdom, decided to leave the EU and went through a years-long divorce process.

While the West has been busy in their backyards, China has been quietly but substantially growing its power aspiring to become one of the superpowers, nudging the United States. Emerging hegemonies have cast a shadow looming in the region and elsewhere. Globalization and multilateralism have been recently challenged, and Asian countries, including ASEAN, have been almost pushed near the edge to choose the US or China. Nosy parkers even posit that ASEAN is stuck in the strategic proxy war between the US and China. Is this true? Recently, Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong expressed his modest but well-thought answers on this matter with BBC Interview.

The prime minister does not “hope the time would come” to choose either one or the other as the defining influence in the region. Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, have extensively interconnected with the two superpowers. While ASEAN has been cautious as per usual, the US and their allies, mostly in western Europe and Japan, have leaned towards the US to counterbalance China’s rise under the fashionable term, the Indo-Pacific. In order to gain legitimacy to empower the Indo-Pacific logic, not only the US but also the UK, Germany, and France have become proactive to promote the ideas and advance their diplomatic strategies, heralding the “free and open” concept, deep-rooted norms in the liberalism. As reflected in the article published in Foreign Affairs (Kurt M. Campbell and Rush Doshi, January 2021) early this year, the Biden’s administration is expected to focus on regaining the US’s image in multilateral orders. The two largest member states of the EU, Germany and France, have also reiterated to enhance partnership with the Indo-Pacific countries. This month, the UK government has finally issued the Global Britain in a competitive age (March 2021), the strategy heavily focused on again, Indo-Pacific. The vivid commonality of all these Indo-Pacific strategies by the West caters down to respect and uphold norms and the rules-based orders in free and open manners.

Unlike the EU, ASEAN has actively engaged external parties in the so-called ASEAN-led mechanism, such as APT, EAS, ARF, and ADMM-Plus. ASEAN Centrality often leads to a chain of criticism of being vague and inefficient. Consensus and unanimity are the core of the ASEAN Centrality. In the second layer, ASEAN’s common position and stance have supported such a decision-making process. ASEAN often refers to itself as a family of 10 members, and they finalize their common position before vis-à-vis many in the regional meetings where the US and China also engage. Those who prefer straightforwardness can barely stand on the ASEAN Centrality, but so far, ASEAN has demonstrated a diplomatic adroitness to make everyone seemingly happy.

ASEAN has encouraged external parties, including its nearest neighbors, China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, to engage in the regional matters. Naysayers can argue that ASEAN is incapable of moving their regional integration forward, which is why external engagement matters much. Nevertheless, ASEAN has amplified the sphere of a new age of diplomacy where different parties across the region can meet at least once a year to exchange views and explore ways forward. ‘Manners maketh men’ suits the ASEAN way. ASEAN will never degrade any country or make it lose face. China has advanced its influence in the region for the last few years, and the BRI initiative has consolidated its economic muscle even more, particularly in ASEAN. Japan, for example, has always been respected by ASEAN, as reflected in the 2021 ISEAS Survey. Japan is even considered one of the most preferred nations to counterbalance US-China rivalry in the region and the EU. Heralded by its enamoring K-Wave, Korea has gained popularity in the region, especially among younger generations.

Looking at the figures, ASEAN Plus Three reached USD 869.1 billion, equivalent to 31% of ASEAN’s total merchandise trade volume as of 2018 (ASEAN Secretariat, April 2020). ASEAN is economically intertwined with their neighbors in East Asia noticeably. However, ASEAN does not block the gate for other guests who wish to sign formal relationships. Despite the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, ASEAN welcomed France and Italy as Development Partners along with Germany and Chile last year. Cuba and Columbia signed the Treaty of Amity. There are more stakeholders than ever in the region. According to the 2021 ISEAS Survey, ASEAN prefers the US and other western countries, noticeably the EU. Economically, China is de facto the most influential power, but politically, the U.S. and the western influences still matter significantly. Thus, ASEAN has hedged between the norms and approaches from the East and the West. ASEAN will probably not whither its neutral position, at least in the foreseeable future. It is premature to tell which one is better, but ASEAN will again develop an inclusive concept to make every party satisfactory, as witnessed in ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific.

ASEAN has paved its way to survive and develop regional integration for more than five decades. Some political pundits still pompously neglect ASEAN as the talk shop of insignificant emerging nations in the southern hemisphere. Despite all odds, ASEAN has achieved external parties’ engagement and has made ASEAN relevant to various stakeholders. ASEAN has embraced every guest who wishes to tie a knot, and it will continue its practice. Those guest countries have expressed and unveiled new norms to attract ASEAN’s attention. What can be reassured is that there will be competing norms with ASEAN’s subtle permission, but ASEAN reigns in the throne to cherry-pick the best options available no matter how hard external parties accentuate their norms.


Seon Young Yang (Ms)

Seon Young Yang is a Senior Research Officer in the Mission of the Republic of Korea to ASEAN in Jakarta (2013-Present). Her academic qualifications are BA in Linguistics (University of East Anglia, the UK, 2006-9), MSc in European Studies and Communication Science (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium, 2011-12), and Graduate Diplomat in International Relations (London School of Economics, the UK, 2016).

Email: seyyang13@mofa.go.kr | Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/seonyoung-sun-yang-37a07a45/