Thai participants at the ASEAN People’s Forum 2015 (APF 2015) have withdrawn their civil society representative, Ms Sattara Hattirat of Togetherness for Equality and Action (TEA), from the interface with ASEAN Heads of Government in solidarity with their Cambodian and Singaporean colleagues who were rejected by their respective governments.
APF noted that the Singapore government’s hand-picked representative did not attend the APF 2015 in Kuala Lumpur or any of the national preparation processes for the region’s largest gathering of civil society organisations. The Singaporean civil society representative was rejected for failing to meet a government-set deadline.
According to APF, the Cambodian authorities have also replaced the Cambodian CSOs rep with a government official who also runs a GONGO (government organized non-governmental organization).
The full statement of the Thai delegation, released on the APF 2015 website yesterday, 26 April, is as follows:
Thailand’s Civil Society withdrawal from the Interface Meeting 2015 in Protesting against the Action of ASEAN’s Member States
We, the one hundred and twenty five Thai participants that attended the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia during 21-24 April 2015, are writing this statement to announce our decision to withdraw our representative from the interface meeting with the ASEAN leaders, scheduled for 27 April 2015.
We are very disappointed that, the Cambodian and Singaporean governments, this year, still continue to select their own civil society representative to be in the interface meeting without any respect to civil society’s principles and selection process. More importantly, we are truly disappointed with ASEAN as a whole for not making attempts to observe the interface principles in good faith.
We believe that, having the representative from a government agency as in case of Cambodia and from a group that has not been involved and has not endorsed our statement released by ACSC/APF as in the case of Singapore, attend the interface as CSO representatives is unacceptable and completely violates the following key principles endorsed by ACSC/APF:
- Mutual respect;
- Meaningful dialogue;
- Endorsement of the ACSC/APF 2015 Statement; and
- Engagement in ACSC/APF 2015 process
In the past years, civil society groups – through the process of ACSC/APF – have explained clearly to governments who took the ASEAN chairmanship on the above principles, with the bottom line agreement that, in the event that any of the governments do not accept the CSOs elected representative, the only thing that should be agreed upon between CSOs and the government, is to leave the seat of that country empty and the seat shall not be replaced by the government nominated representative. This key principle is now being destroyed once again this year.
We would also like to appreciate our Thai Government who has agreed to our principles of self-determination/self selection and mutual respects. Thai CSOs have been successful in selecting our representative. We are very thankful.
However, upholding to our key principles and process of ASEAN as a whole, we therefore withdraw from the interface of 2015, in solidarity of our friends from Cambodia and Singapore. Together with this, with this we are truly thankful to the Malaysian friends and authorities for a cordial and productive ACSC/APF 2015. With this statement, we reaffirm and demand the following:
- An empty seat for Thailand during the interface meeting. The Thai government shall not proceed with any replacement of Thailand’s CSO space; and
- The governments of Cambodia and Singapore to review their sincere intention to engage with their national and also ASEAN CSOs. The two governments should recognize that their continued counterproductive actions against the CSOs and people’s self-determination, is destroying the relationship and trust between ASEAN states and ASEAN people. With the action of the two countries, the People’s Centered ASEAN will never be achieved; it will only be an empty word with no meaning at all.
In solidarity with our ASEAN people and Civil Society Groups.
The Thai NGO Coordinating Committee on Development. (Thai NGO COD)
On behalf of the Thai CSOs and People that attended ACSC/APF 2015