Thursday, September 22, 2016

ASEAN's goal of winning 'war on drugs' by 2020 and disregard for human life

In their pursuit of narcotics-free societies, some ASEAN governments are carrying out harsh measures, including capital punishment. However Asmin Fransiska, Lecturer in Human Rights, at Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia, warns that the ASEAN Vision of freeing the region from illicit drugs by 2020 is unrealistic.

Both Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte and Indonesia's Joko Widodo in their presidential campaigns promised to eliminate corruption. Reuters/Beawiharta

FOUR YEARS AGO member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations adopted the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. Yet today the region is seeing a worrying backward trend in human rights protection in the name of a “war on drugs”.

In the Philippines, civilian death squads and the police have murdered more than 2,000 people since Rodrigo Duterte became president in July. He encouraged the assassinations in the name of the war on drugs and had promised 100,000 would be killed.

In Indonesia, in the first two years of his presidency, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has ordered three waves of mass execution so far, killing 18 people, mostly death row inmates charged for drug offences. They received their death sentences under a corrupt judicial system. Many were sentenced without the minimum procedural and evidential guarantees required for fair trials.

The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration says that member states affirm all the civil and political rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 11 of the ASEAN Declaration reads: "Every person has an inherent right to life, which shall be protected by law." 

The grouping has been silent about the blatant disregard for human lives shown by the Philippines and Indonesia. And this silence will become even more deafening as ASEAN recently appointed Duterte as its chairman for 2017.

Duterte’s appointment signals that despite the region’s adoption of a human rights instrument, countries continue to be reluctant to ensure rights protection in the region and continue to treat human rights as a domestic issue.

ASEAN’s unrealistic ‘drug-free’ goal 

In their presidential campaigns, both Duterte and Jokowi promised to eliminate corruption. Both are carrying out harsh anti-drug measures, albeit in different degrees.

Nevertheless, it’s doubtful that either leader will succeed in eliminating drugs or corruption in their countries. The illegal drug trade and drug use are only symptoms of a bigger problem. Both countries have a weak rule of law and the policies of both presidents exacerbate the problem.

ASEAN’s silence on the harsh anti-drug measures is also rooted in the unrealistic goal of creating a drug-free environment, which is enshrined in the ASEAN Charter signed by member states in 2007.

In their ASEAN Vision 2020 document, member states aim to free the region from illicit drugs by 2020.

Some government officials of member states have acknowledged the goal is unrealistic. Thailand’s justice minister has said the eradication of illegal drugs is counterproductive as it creates systemic corruption in law enforcement institutions and results in overcrowding in prisons. The Malaysian government also describes this goal as an illusion.

The drug-free society narrative has created an unbalanced intervention which heavily focuses on the criminal justice system while neglecting public health measures.

How can we fix this? 

ASEAN drug policy should be overhauled. The number of drug seizures and people executed should not be indicators of success. With the current law-enforcement approach, drug production, processing, trafficking and use continue in the region.

ASEAN member states allocate huge budgets to eliminate drug trafficking. Indonesia, for example, has spent more than US$27 million to combat international organised crime between 2012 and 2015.

The Indonesia Narcotics Agency states that it has a budget of more than US$100 million in 2015. But the large budget that funds these operations goes to waste as Indonesia remains the place where amphetamine-type drugs are produced and trafficked to meet growing demand for crystalline methamphetamine and ecstasy (MDMA) across the region.

Evidence shows decriminalisation and a focus public health approach, such as in Portugal, reduces illicit drug consumption in society. But there is no evidence showing that violence and law enforcement approach does the same.

Through criminalisation, certain types of drugs and distribution will disappear, but other drug types and new methods of drug trafficking will appear.

It is important to position the problem of drug use as a social and health issue. Governments should focus on solving social problems such as poverty and unemployment.

Governments should be serious about tackling corruption in the bureaucracy and criminal justice system. And, most importantly, in the effort to protect people from the effects of drug dependence, they should prioritise harm reduction over law enforcement.

The illicit drug market will continue to flourish where the rule of law is weak and where torture and violence are happening in people’s daily lives. The arbitrary executions will help cover up the real networks of the illicit drug market, which are run by large dark syndicates, not by the poor drug mules and dealers in the street level.

Ending the crime and not people’s lives is the whole issue ASEAN has failed to see.

This silence should not be condoned. It is time for ASEAN to re-interpret the principle of non-intervention when it fails to protect their main subjects: “WE, THE PEOPLES”, as it states in the preamble of its charter.


Asmin Fransiska is a Lecturer in Human Rights at Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, September 16, 2016

ASEAN streamlines and prioritises tasks for next phase of regional connectivity

As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “kicks-in” the next phase of regional connectivity by concentrating on five strategic area, Ms Sanchita Basu Das, a Fellow at the ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, identifies several reasons why the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 is noteworthy:


AT THE 28th ASEAN Summit held recently in Vientiane, the region’s economic integration process advanced into its next phase. The Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025 was adopted to continue the aims expressed in MPAC 2010. This new plan concentrates on five strategic areas:

1. Sustainable infrastructure aims to bring together existing resources to provide holistic support for infrastructure projects, including project preparation, improving productivity, and capability building.

2. Digital innovation strives to harness the full potential of digital technologies by establishing regulatory frameworks to spur new digital services, cultivating a culture of sharing best practices on open data, and equipping MSMEs with the capabilities to access these new technologies.

3. Seamless logistics facilitates collaboration between logistics firms, academic institutions, and ASEAN members to identify bottlenecks across key areas of the region’s supply chains.

4. Regulatory excellence supports the implementation of key ASEAN integration policies by focusing on standards harmonisation, mutual recognition and technical regulations, as well as addressing trade distorting non-tariff measures.

5. People mobility focuses on enhancing intra-ASEAN mobility by improving the ease of travel for tourists, as well as promoting skills mobility by establishing high-quality qualification frameworks in critical vocational occupations, and encouraging the freer movement of intra-ASEAN university students.

MPAC 2025 is noteworthy for several reasons.

First, it streamlines initiatives found in the initial plan and adds new ideas with consideration for uncertainties in the global economy. There is also an element of continuity. Of the 86 uncompleted projects from the previous plan, 52 will be continued and the rest dropped for having ‘no clear sectoral ownership’ or due to overlaps with other regional plans.

Second, the document mentions more precisely where different dimensions of connectivity fit into the ASEAN Community Blueprint. The five strategic areas are also mutually re-enforcing and tacks onto the priorities of the ASEAN Political-Security, Economic and Socio-Cultural communities.

Third, the implementation strategy now lays down comparatively clearer determinants for the implementation process and evaluation techniques.

In addition, robust stakeholder engagement, ranging from external parties (dialogue partners, civil society, private sector and international organisation) to stakeholders at the regional (ASEAN Coordinating Connectivity Council, the ASEAN Secretariat) and national levels (National Coordinators, National Focal Points and Implementing Agencies), has been agreed for timely implementation.


First published by ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS-usof Ishak Institute.