ASEAN has adopted a conservative and unclear approach to engagement with Civil Society Organizations. The inadequacy of ASEAN mechanisms for CSO engagement is partly due to the need for all 10 Member States of ASEAN to agree upon which stakeholders can engage with ASEAN and how, before any such engagement occurs.
The ASEAN Charter, Chapter 5, provides that ASEAN may engage with entities which support the purposes and principles of the ASEAN Charter and that the “rules of engagement” shall be determined by the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Member States’ diplomatic representatives to ASEAN), upon the recommendation of the ASEAN Secretary-General.
ASEAN requires that a CSO be “accredited” to ASEAN before ASEAN bodies can officially engage – hold discussions or joint activities – with that CSO. The 2012 ASEAN Guidelines on Accreditation for Civil Society Organization defines CSOs as:
a non-profit organisation of ASEAN entities, natural or juridical, that promotes, strengthens and helps realise the aims and objectives of the ASEAN Community and its three Pillars – the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community
The Guidelines state that accreditation will be, “based primarily upon the assessment of the positive contribution which such a CSO could make to the enhancement, strengthening and realisation of the aims and objectives of ASEAN,” but provides little guidance on how this contribution to ASEAN’s aims will be measured. In practice, the different ASEAN bodies, including the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) and the ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW) adopt their own CSO engagement practices.