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ASEAN Peoples Forum (APF) 2019: Opportunities, Challenges and Vietnam in the ASEAN Spotlight

Updated on July 6, 2019

From ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC) to ASEAN Peoples' Forum (APF)

The ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC) was first held on the sidelines of the 11th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, under the initiative of the Malaysian Government and Center of ASEAN Research at Mara University of Technology, Malaysia. The goal of this initiative is to create a forum to help civil society organizations to join and discuss with ASEAN leaders on important regional issues.

At the Second Civil Society Conference held in the Philippines in 2006, civil society organizations shared, discussed and proposed solutions to issues that the region is concerned about, especially ASEAN integration and ASEAN Charter.

After the 3rd Conference in Singapore in 2007, the 4th ASEAN Civil Society Conference was held in Bangkok, Thailand in February 2009. Also in this meeting, the Civil Society Conference was renamed the ASEAN People's Forum (ASEAN People’s Forum - APF). From here, APF becomes an open forum, raising the voice of the ASEAN people in the context of implementing the ASEAN Charter, towards building a people-centered ASEAN and strengthening the development of communities according to four focal points, including Economy, Culture - Society, Politics - Security and Environment.

Plenty of opportunities

The forum devoted participation to civil society organizations with the ASEAN process with a name of ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People's Forum (ACSC/APF), held in 2005 in Kuala Lumpur. Participants in the Forum include representatives from groups: farmers, workers, fishermen, poor urban people, children, women, youth, migrants, the elderly... Among them, the priority issues addressed are human rights, labor and migration, social protection, foreign policy, trade and investment, social inequality, residence, peace and security, food, women, gender rights and LGBT, climate change.

Since its foundation, the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People's Forum has focused on organizing national consultations and workshops, national and regional conferences with the government partners, regional advisory meetings, and at the same time make the annual joint statement of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People's Forum or hold conferences in parallel with the Summit ASEAN, strengthening interaction with heads of ASEAN countries.

Issues of particular interests such as free trade agreements, inequality, widespread land conversion, increasing militarization, pollution, disaster, migration, internal conflict, agricultural reform, gender inequality, deprivation of feminism, electricity, water, human trafficking and marginal issues of the non-governmental sector...

And major challenges posed

Despite some initial successes, APF's activities are also limited due in part to certain obstacles to recognizing the role of civil society organizations as well as citizens when participating in the ASEAN common process even though this was clearly stated in ASEAN Charter.

Although named as the ASEAN People's Forum, the people's organizations of these countries have not played a practical role in the preparation and organization of the Forum, while most decisions belong to some of other organizations. Regional or international non-governmental organizations play a role in organizing the Forum.

In addition, the attitude and coordination mechanism with the official channel is still inadequate, leading to the failure to achieve the goal of building partners and conducting dialogues with ASEAN leaders. Typically the 2nd APF Forum was held in Hua Hin, Thailand, the dialogue process became monologue without the participation of ASEAN leaders at the conference.

The content and issues discussed do not reflect the central role of the people of ASEAN countries. Many specific issues of some countries are discussed at the Forum, wasting time and lowering the role of the ASEAN process.

However, this year, APF will be held in Thailand from June, 15-19, the main content focuses on sustainable development. There will be about 10 thematic seminars around the 3 pillars of ASEAN (politics - security; economic, cultural - social) such as peace and security, trade and investment, welfare issues and social benefits in ASEAN, the rights of people in ASEAN, the environment, cooperation in ASEAN.

Many international scholars acknowledge that this year, Vietnam has attracted support because Vietnam does not advocate focusing on ASEAN internal issues like most other countries in Southeast Asia but has concerns mind about issues outside the area. The importance of Vietnam has, according to many experts’ evaluation, increased significantly from the APEC summit in Da Nang in late 2017.

As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Vietnam wants to show its growing role in ASEAN, promoting soft diplomacy and stressing that Vietnam perseveres in pursuing international integration. Not only that, this period also coincides with the time Vietnam takes the role of rotating Chairman of ASEAN in 2020, so it has practical significance for the position of the country both in the region and in the world.

International experts predict that by taking on two roles at the same time, Vietnam will open up opportunities to raise the voice of ASEAN countries on the international forum.

Vietnam is in the ASEAN spotlight

In the last few years, Vietnam has made considerable efforts and achieved outstanding achievements in improving the legal system on human rights, well implementing international recommendations on human rights that Vietnam approved through mechanisms of the United Nations such as the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism; a mechanism for periodic reporting of Conventions to which Vietnam is a member; developing national action programs for implementing the 2030 Agenda on sustainable development goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change; efforts in implementing development programs, especially support for people in areas affected by natural disasters. Despite many challenges, Vietnam will make efforts for people to enjoy better and better human rights and achievements of the country’s development.

Respecting, protecting and promoting human rights are reflected throughout the socio-economic development strategies and policies, the Judicial reform strategy as well as in the implementation of Vietnam’s international obligations and commitments, including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations that Vietnam has approved. Since the review of the second cycle, Vietnam has made a strong effort to improve both the legal, institutional and human rights policies, creating a solid foundation to bring encouraging practical results.

Position, image and voice of Vietnam are increasingly enhanced in the international arena. Therefore, Vietnam has been trusted in important United Nations agencies such as the non-permanent member of the United Nations’ Security Council for the term 2008-2009, 2020-2021, Human Rights Council for the term 2014-2016, Socio-Economic Council for the term 2016-2018, UNESCO Executive Council for the term 2015-2019.

From a poor, backward, unnamed country on the world map, after more than seventy years of mobilizing the people ‘s energy, they agreed to carry out the cause of resistance war, building and defending the Fatherland, Vietnam became a peaceful, independent nation, recognized by the international community as one of the pioneering countries and a bright spot on the implementation of the millennium goals on poverty reduction, social security, justice and advancement social ministry.

As a developing country, besides the opportunities and advantages, Vietnam also faces many difficulties and challenges. But with the nature of a preeminent social regime that this country has voluntarily selected and persevered to implement, through its policy, the correct socio-economic development and the trend of the times Vietnam has increasingly been able to create premises for physical and cultural facilities to better ensure basic human rights.

And ultimate goals in the forthcoming APF

In the upcoming ASEAN People's Forum in Thailand, provided that the diversity of trade agreements and agreements that the ASEAN is actively pursuing, and the potential adverse impacts that they can bring in spite of benefits, ASEAN member states must prioritize human rights, public health and issues of public interests such as business interests and must increase the transparency of these trade negotiations; ASEAN member states must cooperate and coordinate consultations to promote human rights of migrants to avoid discrimination; implementing capacity building and research mechanisms on migrant workers, rights such as access to justice, social protection (health care, children's education, etc.), legal framework for people in migration. In order to achieve the effectiveness and sustainability of the implementation of the "ASEAN consensus" principle, ASEAN should respect international human rights standards and cooperate with other existing human rights mechanisms.

In addition, ASEAN should encourage member states to complete national legal systems relating to peace and security, environmental protection and human rights, in accordance with the context of each country and consistent with the expectations and goals of the international community by implementing the Paris Agreement, addressing the construction of hydropower dams on the mainstream in the Mekong, Salween and ASEAN rivers. Environmental issues are non-traditional security challenges and need to be integrated in the framework of peace and security under the pillar of Security - Politics; strengthening coordination of working with partners to make the Mekong issue a matter of attracting attention to ASEAN-related international mechanisms.

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