Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The ASEAN Charter – One Year Old Today

ASEAN Secretariat, 15 December 2009


The ASEAN Charter is one year old today. It officially entered into force on 15 December 2008 at a special gathering of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers held at the ASEAN Secretariat with the President of Indonesia, H.E. Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, addressing the event.

Meant to transform ASEAN from a loose association of states to a more integrated and rules-based organisation, the ASEAN Charter has, in its provisions, many ground-breaking institutional arrangements and inspirational goals.

“We are now in high gear placing all the elements of the ASEAN Charter into place,” said the Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, on the first anniversary of the entering into force of the Charter.

One new institution established under the Charter is the Jakarta-based Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) to ASEAN. Consisting of full-time permanent representatives from the ASEAN Member States, the CPR will coordinate on a broad range of issues and with all relevant stakeholders. The first year of the implementation of the Charter also saw the ASEAN Summit, as the supreme policy-making body in ASEAN, being held twice. There has also been a flurry of non-ASEAN Member States and inter-governmental organisations appointing and accrediting their Ambassadors to ASEAN. To-date, 27 non-ASEAN Ambassadors have been accredited to ASEAN.

Another feather in ASEAN’s cap was the launch of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) by the ASEAN Leaders at the 15th ASEAN Summit in Thailand in October 2009. Its work will begin with education and the promotion of human rights and gradually taking up the more challenging task of protection. As mandated by the ASEAN Charter, the Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of ASEAN has also been adopted. This agreement will for the first time provide ASEAN with a legal personality and the necessary privileges and immunities for all those performing official ASEAN work in the region.

In tune with the purposes of ASEAN, which includes the creation of a single market and production base, there has been considerable progress in the building of the ASEAN Economic Community. The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) is near completion, with tariffs for the six older ASEAN Member States almost zero by January 2010. 

One of the aspirations of the Charter is for ASEAN to become a more people-oriented organisation. With the Charter recognising the important roles which parliamentarians, the business community, civil society organisations, youth and students play in the life of the ASEAN Community, dialogue and engagement between the region’s political leaders and these stakeholders have been institutionalised.

Much has been achieved in the past year, though much more is to be done in 2010, said Dr Surin. “Viet Nam will take over the ASEAN Chairmanship from Thailand on 1 January 2010 and a high-level ASEAN Secretariat delegation will soon be heading to Ha Noi to discuss with senior Vietnamese officials on priorities under their chairmanship,” said Dr Surin.

To mark this first anniversary, the ASEAN Secretariat Policy Forum – “The ASEAN Charter: One Year On”, will be held at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta on 16 December from 10 am to 12.30 pm. The forum will involve a panel consisting of Tun Musa bin Hitam, Chairman of the Eminent Persons Group on the Charter, and Ambassador Rosario G. Manalo and Ambassador Tommy Koh, Chairpersons of the High Level Task Force on the Drafting of the Charter.

The panelists will draw upon their own thoughts on the intent and dreams of the framers of the Charter, the thinking of the ASEAN Leaders on the importance of the Charter to ASEAN Community-building, and their own experiences during the drafting of the terms of reference and the making of the Charter.

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