EU-ASEAN Summit: An opportunity for the EU to push for ensuring civic space in Asia

This week, on the 20th and 21st, the European Council is meeting in Brussels. In light of the current geopolitical context, among the topics that will be covered, EU leaders will address EU-Asia relations, hold a strategic discussion on China, and discuss preparations for the upcoming EU-ASEAN summit, which will take place on 14 December 2022 in Brussels. 

This year, 2022, marks exactly 45 years of partnership between the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a partnership that revolves around 7 main areas: sustainable and inclusive prosperity, ocean governance, connectivity, human security, green transition, digital governance and partnership, security and defence. 

The commitment of the EU is to implement the global agenda to support long-term prosperity in the two regions, including the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, in line with the principles of democracy, rule of law, human rights and international law

However, several countries in Asia are experiencing a more and more shrinking space and in some cases no space at all to keep working as independent actors. As shown in the SOLIDAR Economic and Social Rights Report on Asia published last year, systematic violation of labor rights has been occurring at an accelerated pace in the region, shrinking or even closing civic spaces have occurred in the form of wilful reduction of political and human rights, as well as civil liberties. Murders of union activists continue to rise in countries like the Philippines and Myanmar, and militarization in various forms has been in place in the region (Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia), which has reduced or closed the spaces and function of civil society. Civil society organizations (CSOs) in Asia have been curtailed by governments that use restrictive laws and criminalize actors of social movements who speak out in defense of their basic rights. This shrinking or closing civic space has impacted CSOs in their role of holding government to account, advocating for democratic reform, fighting corruption, protecting human rights, advocating for marginalized people, and fostering democratic participation, among others.  

In this gloomy context SOLIDAR considers that in view of the upcoming EU-ASEAN Summit, the EU should

  • Urge partner governments to repeal all laws that violate the rights to freedom of association and assembly.  

  • Scale up its support to CSOs in the region. Among others, the EU should support regional CSO platforms and networks. Indeed, the processes and factors that impact the democratic space are ‘regional’ and therefore a regional approach complementing and reinforcing the national one should be envisaged. A regional approach will also protect human rights defenders in the region. 

  • Ensure a dialogue space with CSOs in preparation for the Summit and at the Summit as such.