For instance, in an ASEAN document called ‘ASEAN Vision 2020’, adopted during the 30th anniversary of ASEAN in 1997, it was stated: “Our rich diversity has provided the strength and inspiration to us to help one another foster a strong sense of community” and that “we envision our rich human and natural resources contributing to our development and shared prosperity”. In 2003, this vision was reaffirmed in a subsequent ASEAN document called Bali Concord II. The new ASEAN Charter, which entered into force in December 2008,6 also omits to refer to minorities and indigenous peoples, but acknowledges the potential of ASEAN’s cultural diversity. One of the principles mentioned in the ASEAN Charter is: “respect for the different cultures, languages and religions of the peoples of ASEAN” The newly adopted ASEAN Human Rights Declaration excludes ethnic minorities and indigenous people as the holders of the acknowledged rights for the people in ASEAN.
Objective criteria: These categories derive from the only global standard on minorities, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (UNDM) and article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) concerning the rights of persons belonging to ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. The term ‘race’ is sometimes used alongside ‘ethnicity’ in legislation on non-discrimination; this is not considered an endorsement of the notion of distinct races but is recognition that practices of racism and racial discrimination nevertheless persist and need to be combated. According to the principle of self-identification, individuals belonging to minority groups have the right to self-identify as a minority or to not self-identify as a minority. A minority community has the right to assert its status as a minority and thereby to claim minority rights. Individuals can claim their membership in a minority community on the basis of objective criteria, including shared ethnicity, culture, language and religion. The preservation of the minority group identity depends on the expressed will of the minority community
Special Rapporteur, Jose Martinez Cobo, offers the following “working definition”: “Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system. The rights of minorities, by contrast, are expressed in international law as individual rights of persons belonging to minorities. Some of these rights are exercised in parallel with others, for example, speaking a language or practicing a religion. Minorities often seek autonomy over their cultural, linguistic or religious lives. This may come in the form of non-territorial autonomy where minorities are dispersed or territorial autonomy if they are concentrated in a particular region. In addition, some minority groups (typically national minorities) may seek self-determination as ‘peoples’.
In Search of Bottom-Up PeopleCentered ASEAN Community:
Negotiating the Status of
Minorities in the region
Yuyun Wahyuningrum, Senior Advisor on ASEAN and
Human Rights, Human Rights Working Group, E-mail:
Southeast Asia is characterized by great ethnic, cultural and religious
diversity, and is home to a large number of migrants from China and
India, dominant groups of Malays and Indonesians, as well as
indigenous peoples, hill tribes and many minority groups.
Vietnam, for instance, has 54 official ethnic groups.
Many ASEAN countries seem to aim at minimizing diversity within
the country, thereby developing programs that have the objective of
assimilating and controlling minorities into the norm of majorities.
At the same time, ASEAN has been silence in recognizing their
existence in its process of community building. Minorities are rather
seen as hindrance to development progress or as a threat to politicalsecurity by countries member of ASEAN.
In 1993, the Ministers and representatives of Asian states, meeting in Bangkok in
the context of preparations for the World Conference on Human Rights, adopted a
Declaration, known as „The Bangkok Declaration‟.
One of the commitments including in the Declaration was “the importance of
guaranteeing the human rights and fundamental freedoms of vulnerable groups
such as ethnic, national, racial, religious and linguistic minorities, migrant
workers, disabled persons, indigenous peoples, refugees and displaced persons”
(A/Conf.157/Asrm/8, A/Conf.157/ Pc/59, 7 April 1993)
However, in subsequent documents of ASEAN, no reference was made to
minorities or indigenous peoples.
In 2008 the ASEAN Charter proclaims the principle “to uphold the United
Nations Charter and international law, including international humanitarian
law, subscribed to by ASEAN Member States”. This proclamation calls for an
assessment of ASEAN‟s policy in compliance with international law in regard to
the protection of minorities and indigenous peoples, on the one hand, and the
policies and laws of member states of ASEAN, on the other.
ASEAN continues to emphasize on promoting cultural diversity in its officials
document. ASEAN‟s motto, further tempers the optimism with regard to the
protection of diversity. The motto, “One Vision, One Identity, One
Community”, indicates that the emphasis of ASEAN is on strengthening unity
rather than on promoting diversity.
RIGHTS & CULTURE in the 2000 ASEAN
Declaration On Cultural Heritage
Para 3 - FOUNDATION FOR A REGIONAL ORDER
Para 4 – REGIONAL VISIBILITY
Cultural rights and freedom are inherent in the human person who is the main agent and consequently
should be the principal beneficiary of, and participate actively in the realization of these
heritage, expressions and rights;
Para 6 – FORMATION OF REGIONAL IDENTITY
Cultural creativity and diversity guarantee the ultimate viability of ASEAN societies;
Para 5 – HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
A Regional order is based on equal access to cultural opportunities, equal participation in cultural
creativity and decision-making, and deep respect for the diversity of cultures and identities in
ASEAN, without distinction as to nationality, race, ethnicity, sex, language or religion;
Cultural traditions are an effective means of bringing together ASEAN peoples to recognize their
Para 7 – TOOLS TO UNITE PEOPLE AROUND SOUTHEAST ASIA
Cultural rights draws sustained inspiration from the deep historical, linguistic, and cultural unity and
linkages among Southeast Asian peoples
How Culture has been used to frame rights
As a limit to the realization of rights:
“…The exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms shall be
subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the
purpose of securing due recognition for the human rights and
fundamental freedoms of others, and to meet the just requirements of
national security, public order, public health, public safety, public
morality, as well as the general welfare of the peoples in a democratic
society” (Para 8 AHRD)
To signify the formation of regional identity/ challenge universality
“…At the same time, the realisation of human rights must be considered
in the regional and national context bearing in mind different
political, economic, legal, social, cultural, historical and religious
backgrounds.” (Para 7 AHRD)
“To promote human rights within the regional context, bearing in mind
national and regional particularities and mutual respect for different
historical, cultural and religious backgrounds, and taking into account the
balance between rights and responsibilities” (Article 1.4 TOR AICHR)
How Culture has been used to frame
rights in ASEAN?
Inherent part of the human rights
“Every person has the right, individually or in association with
others, to freely take part in cultural life, to enjoy the arts and
the benefits of scientific progress and its applications and to
benefit from the protection of the moral and material
interests resulting from any scientific, literary or appropriate
artistic production of which one is the author”. Article 32
to decide who can come in/out – indigenous people/ ethnic
minorities, refugees, Rohingya
To lightened the debate into the least common denominator
No legal definition of the term „minority‟ has been agreed in
international law. Individual States recognize a wide range of groups
domestically as minorities based on shared ethnic, cultural, religious
and/or linguistic characteristics.
In the absence of a formal definition, the existence of a minority group
can be assessed using objective and subjective criteria;
Objective criteria focus on the shared characteristics of the group
such as ethnicity, national origin, culture, language or religion.
Subjective criteria focus on two key points: the principle of selfidentification and the desire to preserve the group identity.
The size, access to power, vulnerability to exclusion and geography of
the group matters can be the factor in determining whether minority
protection is required. A group could constitute a majority within the
country but become a numerical minority within a sub-region.
Indigenous Peoples Rights and
Collective land rights
Use of natural resources and
Practice customary law
knowledge, intellectual property, and
Free, prior and informed consent to
measures that affect them or their
lands and territories
to protection of their identity
to participate in public life and in
decision-making that affects them
The Constitutions of the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, and Indonesia recognize
the right of indigenous people, ethnic group, tribe, and traditional community
to conserve local custom and wisdom. However, each country offers different
definition and understanding regarding minorities.
Several Southeast Asian states seem to use their large ethnic diversity, and the
accompanying lack of conceptual clarity, for political purposes.
Laos and Vietnam, for instance, have a highly developed system of ethnic
classification, which they use for census purposes. Moreover, the main focus
of official policy is on the development of national unity by assimilation
rather than by providing separate or autonomous structures.
Indigenous peoples and minorities, often have similar concerns, particularly
from an economic, social and cultural rights perspective, and may be
competing for the same government resources or land.
States‟ programs and policies on minorities and indigenous peoples related to
development assistance, healthcare and education are often a cover for states
for (forced) acculturation, assimilation and resettlement and often contribute
to the degeneration of minorities and indigenous peoples.
The (forced) resettlement and displacement of minorities and indigenous
groups are often the result of the ambition of Southeast Asian governments
to develop from an economy based on agriculture towards an industrialized
Exploitation of natural resources such as oil, timber, rubber and minerals
and has massive implications for indigenous people who depend on the same
resources for their living..
Plantations are established and dams are built, causing the removal or
marginalization of these populations.
(Forced) resettlement of the indigenous peoples and minority groups from
the forests and mountains also occurs, and is often justified by governments
with the protection of the environment, national development and national
Environmental protection in particular is often brought up as a justification
for the resettlement of indigenous peoples, as it is argued that the people‟s
way of living is detrimental to the environment.
Another form of resettlement is the movement of members (often poor
peasants) of the dominant group to areas in which the ethnic minorities
generally live, which is justified by reasons of over- population of the areas
in which the majority lives and by the claim of giving these peasants a better
lack of formal recognition of, and respect for, the identity and culture of
minority often results in a denial of the rights to citizenship, to effective
participation in government and to the recognition of their distinctive
histories, cultures and lifestyles, notably in the context of national
While promoting culture and its diversities, ASEAN does not
automatically link it with the rights of minorities.
This article argues that ASEAN is caught in the middle between the idea
of holding universal values as its common norms on one hand, and
dealing with national interests and political preference on minorities on
the other hand.
Unless ASEAN put an end in nourishing the suspicion over the specific
rights of the minorities, the regional project of being a more organized
and cohesive community will not be successful.