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ASEAN urged to lead by example, place transparency at its core

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Jakarta 05.05.11: The 2011 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Civil Society Conference and ASEAN People's Forum (ACSC/APF), which took place in Jakarta from 3-5 May, brought together 1,330 civil society activists from around the world to discuss the main human rights concerns affecting the region. During the meeting, ARTICLE 19 joined regional civil society representatives in urging ASEAN to enhance its own transparency and provide greater access to information. As a result of the forum, a set of recommendations will be sent to the government leaders attending the 17th ASEAN Summit commencing on 7 May 2011.

"As a regional body with an increasing role in international politics, ASEAN must recognise and fulfill the right of its people to access information and enable greater participation in the making of decisions that will affect them. It is time for ASEAN to take concrete steps in achieving these aims by establishing a right to information policy and an effective civil society engagement mechanism," says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

Key concerns raised by participants during the forum were the lack of transparency within ASEAN and its failure to fulfill its objective of public accountability and inclusion. Described as an 'elitist club' for government officials in Southeast Asia, the majority of participants agreed that ASEAN had done little to involve civil society in its activities. Additionally, information on its procedures, discussions and decisions are not easily accessible.

ARTICLE 19 and other participants called on the newly established ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights (AICHR) to lead by example and proactively publish information on their work. In response, the representative of Indonesia to the AICHR, Rafendi Djamin, acknowledged this problem and said the AICHR will recruit communications officers to publish regular updates of its activities.

In its final statement sent to government leaders attending the 17th ASEAN Summit starting on 7 May, the ACSC/APF 2011 recommended the establishment of a right to information policy and for ASEAN member states to adopt relevant legislation. It also calls for a Commission of Inquiry to be set up in Burma to look into its human rights abuses and for the protection of the media and an end to all censorship in the country.

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