Obama’s star still shines in ASEAN

Barack Obama’s star quality shifted the focus of the event towards himself, and away from U.S. policy and its impacts.

U.S. President Barack Obama greeting an enthusiastic crowd after the Youth Town Hall at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Original image from Getty Images.

After waiting in the blazing afternoon heat for over an hour, I was finally seated in the Dewan Tunku Canselor, the iconic hall of Malaysia’s oldest university, along with several hundred other youths – people under the age of 35 – from Malaysia and other ASEAN countries.

It was a relief to get into the air-conditioned hall in Universiti Malaya, which was looking in tip-top condition. Two large flags, of Malaysia and the United States, hung side by side, covering the far wall. Rows of chairs lined the hall’s four sides. In the center, a square black stage, with a teleprompter on either side of a podium which bore the seal of the President of the United States.

There was a clear sense of anticipation in the air as we waited for the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Town Hall to begin. People were taking group pictures, tweeting about the who’s who in the hall, and whispering about the secret service agents. Member of Parliament Nurul Izzah was a popular side attraction, with audience members filing her way to get a selfie with the popular opposition politician.

Two hours had passed when a large entourage entered the press area – perhaps the journalists who had been covering the President’s prior event, a joint press conference with Prime Minister Najib Razak. The front row seats on stage-left began filling up. U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Yun took their seats. We were asked to take ours. Continue reading

Doomed from the start – the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (LoyarBurok)

This article was published in Loyarburok.

Doomed from the start

Doomed from the start – the AHRD | Badly drawn by Yu Ren Chung. Original picture from http://jvsc.jst.go.jp/find/sports_e/s02_sld/d2_mech/m40_tx.htm

Last week, Prime Minister Najib Razak and other ASEAN leaders signed a document called the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, or more fondly, the “AHRD”. In the ensuing days, much was said about the AHRD. ASEAN and governments praised it, the United Nations expressed caution, and civil society condemned it.

Many are disappointed with the Declaration, as am I. But honestly, were our expectations that high to begin with?

The AHRD was doomed from the start – doomed by poor and varied human rights standards among ASEAN countries coupled with a consensus style decision-making process, ASEAN’s compulsive focus on sovereignty and non-interference, a non-independent human rights commission, and a secretive and non-inclusive drafting process. Continue reading

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Women’s NGOs in SEA oppose “public morality” in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN)

In an article by the Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN, opposing the inclusion of “public morality” as a justification to limit human rights in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, I comment on how moral policing laws discriminate against women in Malaysia:

Yu Ren Chung, Program Officer of Women’s Aid Organization in Malaysia cited how “public morality” under Syariah laws was used by the state in policing Muslims in his country, citing indecency, liwat (sodomy), musahaqah (lesbianism), drinking alcohol, khalwat (intimate acts of unmarried couples), zina (sex out of wedlock), and not observing fasting during the fasting month as acts violating these laws.

“These laws discriminate on the basis of gender identity as the Syariah Criminal offences include any male person who, in any public place, wears a woman’s attire and poses as a woman for immoral purposes and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding one thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or both,” Yu said.

Malaysia’s civil laws are also used to police non-Muslims. Yu shared an incident in March 2012 when three women were charged for indecent behavior for doing pole dancing in a nightclub in Seremban. The women were fined RM25 each and charged for allegedly being “dressed scantily”.

Update: Unfortunately, the term “public morality” was retained in the final Declaration. In fact, the entire Declaration was largely disappointing, as I describe in this Loyarburok post.

Read the full article published on the Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN blog on 20 September 2012.