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Enhancing the Peoples’ Voice at the ASEAN Civil Society Conference 2018

THE ASEAN Civil Society Conference / ASEAN Peoples’ Forum 2018 took place in Singapore early this month .

Held a week before the 33rd ASEAN Summit chaired by Singapore (Nov. 2 to 4), the event was an intensive 3-day meeting with plenaries, workshops and diverse cultural and film screenings focused on ACSC/APF thematic spaces.

The conference, organised in Singapore for the second time since 2007, saw more than 200 participants from civil society organizations (CSOs) from 10 ASEAN member states and Timor Leste.

Convened in collaboration with Think Centre and Task Force for ASEAN Migrant Workers, project partners from Function 8, Project X and UNI-Apro/ASETUC developed this year’s overarching theme “Empowering Peoples’ Solidarity Against All Forms of Discrimination”, centering around convergence themes developed in the Philippines in 2017 with the addition of a sixth new theme “Against All Forms of Discrimination.”

The key objectives of the ACSC/APF 2018 were to bring to the forefront marginalised and vulnerable groups (migrant communities, transgendered persons, sex workers, youths, persons with disabilities) not previously mainstreamed in the conference while recognising efforts at removing barriers to access and portraying vulnerable groups and marginalised persons favourably and visibly. To encourage greater listening in policy-making than top-down approaches between the authorities and civil society, the Town Hall Meeting comprising ASEAN and European parliamentarians and CSOs was convened on Day One (2 November) with the aims of providing a unique and open space for civil society, parliamentarians, government representatives to engage in human rights and democracy issues in Southeast Asia.

The meeting discussed ways to work together to build bridges between civil society and policymakers.

Plenaries comprising local and international speakers centred around topics on United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), urban planning and environment, democracy, civil society space and ASEAN community aspirations.

About 20 workshops were organised across six thematic spaces, including reporting and tracking the implementation of the ASEAN Community Blueprints for 2025 and the SAPA (Solidarity for ASEAN Peoples’ Advocacy) submission in 2015 for CSOs to engage in the various ASEAN processes.

The workshops also allowed participants to immerse themselves in creative role-play debating topics such as flexible employment frameworks and minimum wage proposals. Concrete actions were strategised, such as endorsement of a global charter on universal, transformative social protection, increasing the visibility and participation of women and girls, and fighting the normalisation of stereotypes that perpetuate sexual violence in areas of peace and security, trafficking, economic migration and socio-political conflict, resonated across a number of thematic spaces.

In addition, there were workshops oriented towards migrant worker communities addressing the need for active involvement of ASEAN stakeholders e.g. governments, employers, trade unions, informal workers’ organisations and civil society. Delegates agreed on the collective need to effectively implement recommendations laid out in the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers and the ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML) report.

Rights to communicate with families and freedom to travel were emphasised as part of the larger framework for access to justice, social and legal protection of migrant and domestic workers. Information-sharing, dialogue and cooperation amongst CSOs and member governments in human security, climate change, conflicts in the South China Sea and ethnic solidarity movements pertaining to the Rohingya community were identified as essential priorities in the region’s strategic interests in sustainability, peace-building, justice and enhancing the peoples’ voice.

Environmental issues concerning land use, the Mekong river system, and public-private-peoples’ partnerships were also regarded as instrumental in meeting SDG priorities and ASEAN economic community blueprint goals. Cultural and Social Programs Participants were treated to an array of choir performances, poetry reading, film-screenings and tours to various alternative sites in Singapore including Bukit Brown, community gardens and refugee trails. Films which resonated with convergence space topics in human rights and democracy, migrant livelihoods, corporatism and social protection such as “The Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone”, “Tea Land” and “Drug$: The Price We Pay” enjoyed premiere screenings in Singapore.

The 3-day event concluded with the drafting of the ACSC/APF 2018 statement summarizing recommendations from the six convergence themes, before a handover ceremony introducing the Regional Steering Committee member and CSO representatives from Thailand who are part of the organizing committee hosting us at the ACSC/APF 2019 next year coinciding with the Thai government chairing of the 34th ASEAN Summit.


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