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  5. 41 Years of ASEAN

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FOCUS September 2008 Volume 53

41 Years of ASEAN


Having ten countries in Southeast Asia working together in one organization is a feat, considering the history of failed efforts to unite. Security was the reason for the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), while similarity of language and culture among the Malay peoples in Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia was the pre-eminent justification for MAPHILINDO. But they both failed to continue. The idea of having another Southeast Asian organization of states arose with the Cold War at its height, the consciousness of freedom from the then world powers being promoted (particularly by Indonesia and Malaysia of the Non-Aligned Movement), and the need for the economic development of the subregion finding much support. Countries that had governments with authoritarian character, seen more particularly during the 1970s and 1980s, founded the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Repression of political dissent and suppression of legitimate complaints by communities that suffered from "development projects" had been justified by national security and national development considerations. To its credit, ASEAN has started to discuss human rights during the early 1990s, and more than a decade later adopted human rights-related declarations and a Charter that provided for the creation of a human rights body. But in fulfilling this new interest in human rights ASEAN faces the hard realities of human rights violations affecting all countries of Southeast Asia at present. Hopefully, the forty-one-year experience as an organization has brought maturity to ASEAN in facing the human rights violations that deserve the resolve seen in its pursuit of economic development.