ASEAN is 46 years old and the regional bloc celebrated its anniversary at its headquarters in Jakarta on August 23rd.
The event was not only a milestone, but it provided an opportunity to reflect on the path ahead. Speakers at the celebrations highlighted the need to make ASEAN more people-centered, and to attract youth.
"While we are setting the stage for free trade and investment, we are also ensuring that our economic gains are shared and felt by each and every ordinary ASEAN citizen," ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh said.
"While we are crafting overarching regional frameworks, we are also making sure that our programmes on climate change, energy, food security, social welfare and many other pressing concerns will benefit every man, woman and child in the region."
During the occasion, Durudee Sirichanya, head of the Public Outreach and Civil Society Division of the Secretariat, announced the winners of the 2013 "Celebrate Your ASEANality" Photo Contest.
The contest was held via the ASEAN digital community – the website aseancommunity.org, and its associated Facebook page and Twitter accounts – which has gained 200,000 friends and followers in the two years since it was launched.
A performance by Indonesian wushu athlete Susyana Tjhan, a 2011 Southeast Asian Games gold medalist, also marked youth participation in the celebration.
Progress on human rights
The highlight of the half-day event was the launch of a book containing translations of ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) and its statement of adoption into the national languages of all 10 member states, and a panel discussion on its implementation.
Adopted in Phnom Penh in November 2012, the AHRD is considered the bloc's landmark achievement, despite criticism by human rights activists. The document was drafted in English, ASEAN's official language.
"Translation of the declaration is very important to promote better implementation and protection of human rights," said Indonesia's permanent representative to ASEAN, I Gede Ngurah Swajaya.
The achievement, he suggested, is all the more remarkable because of the difficulties involved in forming a consensus across the region. It is almost "unimaginable" that ASEAN had achieved common views on the promotion and protection of human rights, Ngurah said.
Rosario G. Manalo is the Philippines' representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). She and her colleagues recognise the continuing criticism of their work and welcome it as valuable input for consideration, bearing in mind that member states must adapt human rights norms at their own pace, Rosario said.
She expressed optimism that human rights promotion and protection in the region would improve in time, including with an upcoming review of the terms of reference for the ASEAN rights body, formed in 2009. Its first task was to produce the AHRD.
"It will be the terms of reference's first review," Rosario said. "We hope there will be more emphasis on protection after that. It didn't satisfy everyone but it was already a game changer and a paradigm shift in ASEAN. Hopefully, after the review, the terms of reference will be able to satisfy everyone."
Yusdiana, disability rights advisor for the ASEAN General Elections Network for Disability Access (AGENDA), told Khabar Southeast Asia that as a starting point, the declaration was sufficient to protect and promote the rights of the disabled, especially to exercise their political freedoms to participate in elections.
"The ASEAN rights declaration acknowledges that there should not be any discrimination towards the disabled and we could use it as the starting point for our advocacy," she said.