GPPAC-SEA calls on ASEAN to establish dispute prevention and settlement mechanism

We, members of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict- Southeast Asia (GPPAC-SEA), call on members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to immediately establish a dispute prevention and settlement mechanism to address festering intra- state conflicts in the region.

While the newly-minted ASEAN charter call for the creation of a Dispute Settlement Mechanism among the States, there is urgency in preventing, settling and transforming conflicts within the states in the region. This call is founded on an alarming trend where peoples of Southeast Asia are bearing the crunch brought about by the global economic meltdown that will surely exacerbate poverty and impinge on already existing conflicts already suffered by millions of people in the region.

We, members of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict- Southeast Asia (GPPAC-SEA), call on members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to immediately establish a dispute prevention and settlement mechanism to address festering intra- state conflicts in the region.

While the newly-minted ASEAN charter call for the creation of a Dispute Settlement Mechanism among the States, there is urgency in preventing, settling and transforming conflicts within the states in the region. This call is founded on an alarming trend where peoples of Southeast Asia are bearing the crunch brought about by the global economic meltdown that will surely exacerbate poverty and impinge on already existing conflicts already suffered by millions of people in the region.

We call on ASEAN leaders who will be in Hua Hin Province this week for the 14th ASEAN Summit to go beyond their looking glass as the terrible human rights situation in Burma continue to worsen and violent conflicts have escalated in South Thailand, West Papua and Mindanao.

We want to believe that this Summit is not just another talkshop. By this, we urge member-states to uphold and enrich the power of the words in the ASEAN Charter which significantly include the role of the state in dispute settlements as clearly mentioned in its Chapter 8 Article 22 which is the General Principles on Settlement of Disputes:

“Member states shall endeavor peacefully all disputes in a timely manner through dialogue, consultation and negotiation. ASEAN shall maintain and establish dispute settlement mechanisms in all fields of ASEAN cooperation.”

To be more specific, we briefly elaborate below the current situation of countries in the region that urgently needs urgent action from ASEAN:

Indonesia:

The sustainability of peace in Aceh needs support otherwise, revolutionary forces will only go back to war because issues that resulted to the conflict still exist. Conflict-affected areas such as West Papua and Maluku are also beset with human rights violations that call for immediate attention. West Papua’s rich natural resources are being exploited by big foreign and national companies for logging and mining activities with tacit support from the government.

Transitional justice in this country after Suharto’s regime remains a question. Despite having a so-called democratic space, the strong presence of Indonesian militias in West Papua provides a chilling effect on the people.

Cambodia:

The post-Khmer Rough regime needs to prove that they are not like their predescessors. Cambodian peace workers have difficulty in organizing peace actions due to the heavy presence and increased number of military groups making people feel unsafe to  mobilize.

Even at the onset of the trial of Khmer Rouge leaders, freedom of expression has yet to be bear fruition due to fear among people to express their views on political issues especially if it is critical of the current government. At the same time, massive demolitions are aggressively imposed on urban poor settlers and land grabbing has become extensive forcing people to surrender their land to companies.

Vietnam:

While the outside world may look at Vietnam as a peaceful country because of a strong government, development issues such as mining and hydro power plant issues can potentially lead to conflict due to a growing public discontent.

The Vietnam government prohibits demonstrations making it difficult for people to talk about conflict and conflict resolution.

Timor Leste:

While not yet a member of ASEAN, confronted with recent armed hostilities between government and revolutionary forces, one of the greatest challenges for Timor Leste is the return of thousands of internally displaced people to their communities where they can be guaranteed of their security and sustainability.

Although, Timor’s situation has become better now after a ceasefire was upheld and the conflict parties engaged in dialogue. A peaceful and just society needs to be sustained in this relatively new country.

We urge ASEAN to also fast-track the full membership of Timor-Leste so as to also be enriched by the experiences of a fresh post-conflict democratic country.

Philippines:

Peace in Southern Philippines remains bleak after the Supreme Court junked the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain negotiated by government and Moro revolutionary forces. As an aftermath, half a million people have been internally displaced with poor living conditions, when the armed hostilities broke out again.

The national government have tried to bring back refugees to their homes but with no guarantee of security. At one time, those who returned were even bombed as soon as they reached their communities. The resumption of the peace talks is urgent at this point, and ASEAN should nudge this process to happen soonest.

South Thailand:

The conflict between the Thai government and the insurgents in South Thailand makes the lives of local people more difficult. Significant number of business groups have withdrawn their businesses in the area of fear of being caught between the hostilities. As a result, a lot of people lost their jobs. Trust, which has been earned since childhood, between Buddhists and Muslims has waned.

Burma:

The democratization of Burma remains the single most urgent issue wanting of a resolute action from ASEAN. The military junta’s human rights violations committed against the peoples of Burma is something that ASEAN leaders must respond to urgently.

ASEAN’s stand on non-interference, non-intervention are obsolete principles in this situation.

The case of thousands of Rohingya boat people who arrived in the Thai border to evade abuse and hunger under the Burma military government only to be driven away by Thai authorities also need to be addressed.

ASEAN, in the name of social justice, has the responsibility to intervene on this ongoing hostilities that has already affected thousands if not millions of people that have rocked the international community which has loudly called for the restoration of democracy in Burma.

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