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Is ASEAN really working for the people?


Mar 5, 2009 (DVB), At the ASEAN People's Forum in Bangkok last month I couldn't escape the words of ASEAN secretary general, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, who stated time and again that the bloc cannot stand on its own without the peoples’ input.

ASEAN leaders are trying to juggle the differing issues of 500 million people, Pitsuwan said. Therefore the people have the duty to point out where ASEAN is going wrong.

While his words were very sweet and attractive, they were nevertheless useless for me.

I didn’t complete my university education, but as a citizen of Southeast Asia I can see what the real problems in the regional countries are. I don't know why the leaders always pretend that they don't see the reality. Even though they say "people, people, people" hundreds of times, I want to ask them whether ASEAN really is working for people or not?

The organization I now work with is small, but even we obey the principle of group decision-making: we are all equal within the organization. As I understand, ASEAN should be a lot better than our small group.

ASEAN leaders do whatever they want without consulting the grassroots, no matter whether their aims are realistic or not. They only talk about the good aspects of what they do, never the negative effects their decisions have. But then, when something negative happens, they blame the people.

"You have responsibilities to tell to your leaders," they say. "The leaders can't do it all without citizen's participation."

If they really think of the people, why don't they consult with the people before they implement their work? Furthermore, how can ASEAN possibly say that the people should have more input when one country, Burma, doesn't let its people participate?

One member of the audience challenged Pitsuwan on this issue, asking what the benefits of ASEAN membership are for Burmese people. When I heard his reply, I wanted to die immediately.

Without ASEAN, he said, the international aid wouldn't have reached the delta area worst hit during Cyclone Nargis. The Burmese, and the whole international community, know how Nargis victims there could not access food and shelter.

The ASEAN charter is just a waste of time. I don't understand how ASEAN leaders claim to analyse regional problems and threats without acknowledging that HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, and the millions of Burmese refugees and migrant workers in Thailand are a problem for the ASEAN region.

Now, ASEAN is creating an actor which doesn't have a mouth, eyes or ears – the ASEAN Human Rights Body. Even though it is still in the building process, ASEAN can't show that AHRB will be effective for the people because the ASEAN forum didn't allow two representatives from Burma and Cambodia to discuss human rights.

Before it does come into existence then, I suggest that if ASEAN members really don't practice what they preach, they shouldn't continue funding the body and instead give that money to the poor.


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