SEAPIL’s Workshop for Human Rights Defenders in Southeast Asia During ASEAN People’s Forum 2023

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SEAPIL’s Workshop for Human Rights Defenders in Southeast Asia During ASEAN People’s Forum 2023

This year’s ASEAN People’s Forum (APF) was held on 1-3 September 2023 at Atmajaya Catholic University, Jakarta. During APF, more than 500 people around Southeast Asia gathered to discuss and learn about the situation of Southeast Asian countries under the theme of ‘’Reclaiming safe spaces, restoring democracy and equity in Southeast Asia”. APF 2023 became a safe space for all civil society to be able to speak up, to be able to scream out vulnerable situations in each country that are not very much covered in the ASEAN Summit that was held almost at the same time as APF 2023. During APF 2023, there are more than 15 different kinds of side events with six different themes, which are: (1) Peace and Human Security; (2) Alternative Regionalism; (3) Human Rights and Safe Space for Marginalized Groups; (4) Climate and Environment Justice; (5) Socio-Economic Justice; (6) Democracy and Anti-authoritarianism. There are also 21 notable speakers for the Plenary Sessions. 


SEAPIL (Southeast Asia Public Lawyer Interest) were focusing on theme six of the side events where we gathered speakers from Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar under a workshop titled “Enabling Environment for Civil Society in Southeast Asia: Protection of the Right to Freedom of Association and Human Rights Defenders”. The workshop was held on Saturday, 2nd September 2023 with more than 25 participants joining to voice out the same issues. 

We have three objectives during the workshop. The objectives of the workshop are; (1) Creating space for civil society to be able to jointly recognize the trends and situation of the criminalisation of human rights defenders and the right to freedom of association in their respective countries and the similarities at the regional level; (2) Finding best practices carried out by human rights defenders and  civil society actors in navigating various challenges and obstacles faced both within the context of the organization and the wider movement; (3) Linking up civil society initiatives and build solidarity in the region to encourage discourse and collective action plans to combating authoritarianism and demand guarantees for enabling environment for civil society in Southeast Asian countries. 


We discussed how ASEAN should’ve been able to create safe spaces for Human Rights Defenders all over Southeast Asia by creating a special mechanism for human rights criminalization. We talked about the criminalization of Fatia-Haris from Indonesia and Dang Ding Bach from Vietnam and gained popular responses from the civil society. We were very positive about the impact of the workshop for all human rights defenders all over Southeast Asia. 


After the workshop, we suggested three recommendations to be included in the joint statement which are: 

  1. There is an understanding and common view through legal empowerments regarding the situation and guarantees on protection of Human Rights Defender and the right to freedom of association as one of the modalities for defending democracy and fighting against authoritarianism and militarism in the Southeast Asia Region.
  2. Regarding improving the right to freedom of association, civic space, and protection of human rights defenders which can be put forward for discussion at the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting in order to formulate ASEAN Development policies going forward, and expand the jurisdiction of the law enforcement to ASEAN by establishing the ASEAN Human Rights Court.
  3. To build a collective action plan and solidarity among civil society actors in the ASEAN Region to strengthen various works to defend democracy, oppose authoritarianism, promote human rights, and prioritise protection of vulnerable groups such as women, children, and people with disabilities.


We hope to have more spaces and more integrated civil society meetings in the future to voice out more concerns and more issues on human rights. 


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