ASEAN. The consortium of South East Asian nations was formed in 1967, and we are now living at the start of 2012. What pressing issues do they emphasize every year? Simple. Economic power and how to sustain it. Where are human rights in this equation? Simple, it is merely an after thought. Though they call it ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism or whatever the hell that means. Selected facets of civil society and corporations are given the opportunity to discuss concerns that by their definition is urgent. However, how well are informal groups and individuals represented in highlighting and advocating their needs?
What about the invisible-to-the-mainstream community groups that toil endless hours to help improve the quality of life for indigenous peoples, street children, migrant workers, LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgenders), sex workers, drug users, persons with disabilities, rural & urban poor, stateless, women and refugees? What about rights-based NGOs? Or are they ostracized because they are foreign-based, radical to the mainstream and/or do not worship the expectations and whims of the government?
ASEAN’s management or mismanagement of human rights violation has proven to be effective only for their member governments. There is no relevance to the plights of marginalized communities, and governments no longer play a role as guardian of human rights in the region. If ASEAN and NGOs are to be truly people-oriented, they must be accessible to the people. But then again, how many people in this region have access to information, political connection, jobs, security, and resources to be able to fulfill human rights, much less basic needs such as drinking water or housing for the homeless? Activist in South East Asia are reduced to begging for funds from just about anyone to jump-start or sustain their human rights project. Activism has been replaced with advocacy-laced-with-politeness within ASEAN; protests are brutally suppressed – mindless and repetitive dialogues are encouraged. There is no actual freedom to mobilize and openly demonstrate – so much for UN’s Article 20 of the “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” ~ merely an illusion in ASEAN.
ASEAN is a platform for the rich and obese, it does not believe in sustainable development for the poor, the helpless, the vulnerable and the odd-behaving groups. ASEAN is an association for yearly holidays for the representatives of the government and their lackeys for their numerous regional meetings and conferences. Human rights does not start from a formal body, nor should it start with the government. The power to change the unchangeable is in the hands of the people; it is time for ASEAN to fade into oblivion and the time for the people to take charge of the government. It is time.