ASEAN has adopted a conservative and unclear approach to engagement with Civil Society Organizations. The inadequacy of ASEAN mechanisms for CSO engagement is partly due to the need for all 10 Member States of ASEAN to agree upon which stakeholders can engage with ASEAN and how, before any such engagement occurs.
The ASEAN Charter, Chapter 5, provides that ASEAN may engage with entities which support the purposes and principles of the ASEAN Charter and that the “rules of engagement” shall be determined by the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Member States’ diplomatic representatives to ASEAN), upon the recommendation of the ASEAN Secretary-General.
ASEAN requires that a CSO be “accredited” to ASEAN before ASEAN bodies can officially engage – hold discussions or joint activities - with that CSO. The 2012 ASEAN Guidelines on Accreditation for Civil Society Organization defines CSOs as:
“a non-profit organisation of ASEAN entities, natural or juridical, that promotes, strengthens and helps realise the aims and objectives of the ASEAN Community and its three Pillars – the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community”
The Guidelines state that accreditation will be, “based primarily upon the assessment of the positive contribution which such a CSO could make to the enhancement, strengthening and realisation of the aims and objectives of ASEAN,” but provides little guidance on how this contribution to ASEAN’s aims will be measured. In practice, the different ASEAN bodies, including the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) and the ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW) adopt their own CSO engagement practices.
AICHR Terms of Reference (TOR): Article 4.8 requires AICHR, “To engage in dialogue and consultation with other ASEAN bodies and entitles associated with ASEAN, including civil society organizations and other stakeholders as provided for in Chapter V of the ASEAN Charter,” and Article 4.9 allows AICHR, “to consult with other national, regional and international institutions and entities concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights.”
Guidelines on the Operations of the AICHR : The Guidelines repeat what is contained in AICHR’s Terms of Reference.
ACWC Terms of Reference (TOR): Article 3.9 states that ACWC will, “adopt a collaborative and consultative approach with ASEAN Member States, academia and civil society pertaining to the rights of women and children.”
ACWC Rules of Procedure: Article 53 states that “The ACWC shall engage the participation of civil society and stakeholder’s wherever possible. Such participation shall respect the principles of transparency, effective and meaningful dialogue.”