ASEAN People’s Forum in Cambodia “two events in a small city”

Prior to the ASEAN summit which Cambodia is the chair this year, NGOs, members the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and citizens group from the 10 ASEAM member states/countries had come together for a three-day forum/conference to discuss issues of their concerns and to identify recommendations to put forward for the ASEAN Delegates to take on board for their discussion at a higher governmental and political level during the summit which will be held in early April.

Civil Society Representatives from the ASEAN Countries give testimonies

Around one thousand participants attended the first day of the event mostly from the NGOs and members of CSOs from the 10 countries and citizens group from across Cambodia who were enthusiastic and excited as the opening session began which was accompanied by colorful symbolic shows, traditional blessing dance, drum performance and inspiring testimonies from representatives of the 10 ASEAN member states. The participants, through this forum, hope to make contribution to the agenda of the ASEAN summit by submitting key recommendations to be solicited from the three-day discussions.

To a disappointment of many, there was no representative from the Government of Cambodia who were on the list of invitee to be honorable guests for the event. However, there were few honorable guests including the head of UNOHCHR and a representative from the French Embassy along with several international organizations and development partners who kept low profile at the event.

What may sound a bit weird is that there are also the same forum organized by another smaller group of NGOs who were said to have been supported by the government which began a day earlier and is still in progress in parallel with this event which is led by leaders from the NGOs and CSOs in Cambodia including NGO Forum and CCC together with many other well-known organizations. One may ask these questions: why are there two separate forums for the same purpose in such a small city? Why there were no government representatives for this forum and a lot of government officials including the Deputy Prime Minister for the other one? From which group will the recommendations be put forward and accepted by the ASEAN Delegates as part of their agenda? Let’s wait and see.

The theme for the ASEAN summit this year is “One Community, One Destiny” which sounds very nice on the banner. How much this theme will contribute to a realization of reality remain to be seen. But the situation described above is unfortunately a reflection of the opposite.

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