Indigenous Rights, Labor and Human Rights in the ASEAN

Tomorrow, the ASEAN People’s Forum (APF) will start in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It is a gathering of largely anti-liberalization, anti-privatization and deregulation groups and NGOs. The 3-days event (April 22-24) is held before the annual ASEAN Summit will officially start, April 25-27, also in KL.

The APF Secretariat is sending teasers to registered participants about selected panels by email. Here are four of those teasers.

(1) On indigenous lands. This panel is an attack on state and corporations “collusion”. The term “non-state” should actually and technically include not  only private corporations but also NGOs, people’s organizations (POs), church groups, rebel groups and other CSOs as they are all “non-government” entities.

apf1
Land grabbing and stealing is a crime, and it does not matter if the land grabber is a local or foreign corporation or individuals, rich or poor. The main function of the state is to enforce the rule  of law, especially the law against stealing and disrespect of private property rights, and law against right to life and liberty of the people. This concern can be tackled anytime anywhere and not an ASEAN-specific issue.

(2) Forum on “right to work” and “rights of workers”. These are fine. But it seems that the advocacy has stopped there. What about the “right not to hire”, “right to fire” of lazy or dishonest or inefficient job applicants and/or workers? What about the “rights of entrepreneurs”?

apf2

Technically, “right to work” is an individual  decision. There are many individuals who do not want to work even if a job opening is available to them; or do not want to stay to jobs they already hold. The same way, a “right to entrepreneurship” or “right to create jobs for others” is also an individual  decision. Entrepreneurs can choose to hire only two workers instead of five or 10, and give those hired high pay, lots of gadgets and machines, training and seminars, to improve their productivity so they can do the work of 5 or 10 people.

(3) ‘Extraterritorial obligations in the context of cross-border investment in ASEAN: the role of human rights institutions’

Date: Friday, 24 April 2015, 1.30 – 3.30pm

“The ASEAN Economic Community is likely to produce an escalation in cross-border investments within ASEAN, which brings with it significant human rights and environmental challenges. The workshop will examine recent transboundary human rights complaints to the Thai and Malaysian National Human Rights Institutions regarding cross-border investment by Thai and Malaysian companies in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. The discussion will highlight the role of national and regional human rights institutions in holding states and companies accountable for the results of their investments. It will also address the accountability and rule of law challenges that enable such human rights violations to occur and experience to date in investigating and remediating human rights complaints.”

Speakers

       – Dr. Nirun Phitakwatchara, Commissioner,

          National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT)

     – Professor Dato’ Dr. Aishah Bidin, Commissioner,

          National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM)

       – Dr. Seree Nonthasoot, Representative of Thailand to

           the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)

       – Mr. Eang Vuthy, Executive Director,

          Equitable Cambodia (Cambodia)

      – Mr. Ye Lin Myint,

           Dawei Development Association (Myanmar)

      – Ms. Sor. Rattanamanee Polkla, Coordinator,

           Community Resource Centre, (Thailand)

Facilitators: Earth Rights International (ERI) and Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA)

Organised by:

Community Resource Centre (Thailand), Suaram (Malaysia), 

Equitable Cambodia (Cambodia), Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA)

I cannot attend this forum because I  will be flying back to Manila morning of that day. But similar to my comments in #1 above, human rights (HR) is a fundamental issue as it affects the right to life, right to private property ownership of the people. It does not matter if the HR violator is a local or foreign company or individual.

Now if the organizers and speakers of that panel would argue that AEC and intra-ASEAN investment liberalization is to blame, they are mistaken. With or without the AEC, or any other regional or multilateral economic agreements, the people’s basic HRs should be promulgated and violators, local or foreign, government or private personnel, should be made accountable.

The AEC is about greater economic integration of the 10 member-states of the association. It is both integration and competition at the same time, the same way that neighboring cities in the same country can be competing in attracting investors and visitors. And  it is a good thing because it encourages, even forces people and officials, to become more efficient, more industrious and ambitious, more transparent and accountable, to their stakeholders and customers.

It is unfortunate that a number of NGOs and CSOs fall for the populist belief that accelerated economic liberalization, greater economic integration and competition within the ASEAN, can be a bad thing.

The new regional center and think tank South East Asia Network for Development (SEANET) would endeavor to help clarify these issues through more public education, citizens and civil society engagement. More choices and options, more freedom whom to buy from and sell to, ultimately redounds to economic empowerment and hence, poverty alleviation in the ASEAN countries and the rest of the world.

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