Regional heads of state are meeting at a time when human rights are backsliding alarmingly across Southeast Asia as authoritarian governments are strengthening their grips on power. This will also be the first ASEAN Summit held since the general election in Cambodia on 29 July which effectively turned the country into a one-party state.
"Human rights are under threat throughout Southeast Asia. ASEAN's destructive non-interference principle means that the bloc has been both unwilling and unable to take a stand against violations. This lack of action must end – human rights should take centre stage in Singapore next week," said Charles Santiago, APHR Board Chair and a member of the Malaysian parliament.
"ASEAN leaders cannot let the Cambodian government simply get away with dismantling democracy. They must push Prime Minister Hun Sen to end his crackdown on dissent and hold new, genuinely free and fair elections."
Hun Sen's – who will be attending the Summit - ruling Cambodian People's Party won all 125 seats in the National Assembly in July after a vote that was largely dismissed as fraudulent. In the year leading up to the polls, the CPP increased repressive tactics against opponents, including by dismantling what little remained of independent media, and harassing and jailing rights activists.
In November 2017, Cambodia's highly politicized Supreme Court disbanded the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) - the country's only viable opposition force – and stripped CNRP MPs, including APHR Members, of their seats. In September, CNRP leader Kem Sokha was also detained on politically-motivated "treason charges." Although he has since been released into house arrest, the charges against him remain.
Since the election, Hun Sen has offered piecemeal concession in the form of limited releases of political prisoners, but the repressive laws they were jailed under remain in place.
Regional MPs also stressed that the ASEAN Summit must include the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar on its agenda. In September, the UN-appointed Independent Fact-Finding Mission accused the Myanmar military of wide-ranging abuses in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States, and called for Myanmar top military officials to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.
APHR has previously urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.
The ASEAN gathering will take place as Myanmar prepares to receive the first group of returning Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. The two governments have announced that 2,260 Rohingya who fled the security forces' campaign of violence in 2017 will be repatriated to Myanmar in mid-November.
This is despite the fact that the refugees themselves have not been formally consulted on whether or not they wish to return and despite clear UN warnings that their safety cannot be guaranteed in Rakhine State.
"ASEAN leaders must do all they can to pressure Myanmar to end the abhorrent treatment of Rohingya – they cannot stand idly by while a possible genocide is unfolding in one of their member states," said Charles Santiago.
"The rushed plan to push refugees back to Rakhine State against their will must also end immediately. Myanmar continues to impose debilitating restriction on Rohingya and the risk of renewed violence by the security forces remains. Rohingya women, men, and children have experienced horrific violations, and should not be forced back to a country where there is a very real chance they will face further atrocities."