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ASEAN Peoples Centre launched in Jakarta to advance civil society advocacy

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asean.jpgA coalition of Southeast Asian civil society organizations called on ASEAN to cooperate fully with the ASEAN People's Centre launched in Jakarta today to honor the former's commitment to make itself a truly "People-oriented ASEAN". Read the press statement issued on 15 January in Jakarta.

The centre (APC), first of its kind to promote engagement between the two sectors (civil society and governments), was organized by Solidarity for Asian People's Advocacy (SAPA) Working Group on ASEAN.

This is part of civil society efforts to assert people's participation in ASEAN's policies.
The historic event was officiated by the co-convenor of SAPA Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights, Rafendi Djamin together with the Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr. Soeung Rachavy.

At the official ceremony, Djamin said that the establishment of a physical office in Jakarta for civil society to engage with ASEAN is the latest substantive initiative of the group to push for the realization of a people-oriented ASEAN.

SAPA Working Group on ASEAN, a loose network of about 40 civil society organizations in Southeast Asia, have been actively engaging with ASEAN to influence its public policies and hold the regional bloc accountable to the peoples in the region by prioritizing their interests.

The group advocates for better participation and decision making by the people in ASEAN policies. SAPA currently works extensively on issues such as women, children, migrant, indigenous peoples, human rights, democratization, peace and security, rural development, trade and environment.

The office, located in Jiwasraya Building, Lobby Floor, Jl. RP. Soeroso No. 41, Gondangdia, Central Jakarta, hopes to be the bridge to facilitate the information flow between ASEAN and civil society in the region; to encourage dialogue and engagement between ASEAN and civil society in ASEAN public policy decision making. It aims to enhance the participation of marginalized groups in the region.

"We believe that the ASEAN Peoples' Center will develop into a regional hub of the civil society in its engagement with ASEAN to cover emerging important issues in the region", added Sinapan Sammydorai, Convenor of the Solidarity for Asia People's Advocacy Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers (SAPA TFAMW).

APC's short term plans include special focus on civil society engagement in the drafting of the terms of reference of the ASEAN human rights body, three community blueprints, implementation of the Declaration on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and the drafting of multilateral instruments on the rights of migrant workers.

"It is timely to have the office now, especially in view of the rapid development of the establishment of ASEAN human rights body and the possibilities of utilizing the ASEAN human rights body for civil society's work in the long run", said Yap Swee Seng, who is also co-convenor of SAPA and Executive Director of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), a regional human rights organization based in Bangkok, Thailand.

With the enforcement of the ASEAN Charter on 15 December 2008, ASEAN will operate under a new legal framework and establish a number of new organs to enhance its community-building process.
Article 1.13 of the ASEAN Charter states that the body is "To promote a people-oriented ASEAN in which all sectors of society are encouraged to participate in, and benefit from, the process of ASEAN integration and community building".

"Civil society organizations have an important role to contribute to the promotion of a new brand of people-oriented ASEAN, especially in its process of community building", said Consuelo Katrina Lopa, also a co-convenor of SAPA and Regional Coordinator of the Southeast Asian Centre for Advocacy (SEACA).
The ASEAN Charter has been fully ratified in all ten ASEAN Member States.

Singapore was the first to submit its instrument of ratification to the Secretary-General of ASEAN on 7 January 2008 while Thailand was the last, on 15 November 2008.