DAVAO CITY–An outspoken Indonesian human rights advocate was banned from addressing fellow delegates to the Asean Civil Society Conference—also called the Asean People’s Forum—in Brunei Darussalam.
Ironically, it was not the Brunei Darussalam government that prohibited Jakarta-based Yuyun Wahyuningrum but the national organizing committee (NOC) which is also composed of civil-society organizations based in Brunei Darussalam.
“This is self-censorship,” Wahyuningrum lamented.
She was supposed to speak about Asean’s vision on human rights on April 6. Before this, Wahyuningrum, who works for the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), was told that she will not be allowed to address the plenary.
“We have been seen that during our Forums since 2005, Governemnt continue to disrupt and intervene civil society’s conference on Asean. We witnessed this in 2007 in Singapore, 2010 in Vietnam and in 2012 in Cambodia,” Wahyuningrum told NewsDesk.
What was surprising, she added, was that this time, it was not the government that “disrupted the event but the group that called itself civil society organization in Brunei.”
“We are now dealing with organization who act like government. Nevertheless it is suffice to say that this act does not necessarily reflect the whole picture of civil society in Brunei,” Wahyuningrum stressed.
Because of this, Wahyuningrum’s group withdrew from being Indonesia’s representative to the Steering Committee to the Asean People’s Forum 2013.
Daniel Awigra, HRWG-Indonesia program manager for Asean Advocacy, said the NOC of the APF has “faild to maintain and uphold the very objectives” of the forum.
“It is no way that human rights organization such as HRWG support the effort to ban the freedom of speech,” he said in a statement, apparently in reference to the decision of the NOC to ban Wahyuningrum.
Awigra said that the NOC has explained during a regional steering committee meeting on April 4 that Wahyuningrum was being banned because of her article that criticized Brunei, as the current chair of Asean, for failing to conduct the interface meeting between civil society and Asean leaders.
In the article, which appeared on NewsDesk on February 23, Wahyuningrum said: “Whether or not Brunei will hold an informal meeting between the head of states and CSOs remains unclear. I am personally afraid the chair will decide against hosting such a meeting. Why? I am afraid the chair does not see the importance of such interface. Or it could be that the chair is just too lazy to organize one.”
And she added: “If that happens, the chair is defying this year’s theme–“Our future, our people together.”
For Awigra, the decision of the NOC “was unacceptable”—especially because it is a decision of a “group who calls itself as civil society.”
“The explicit statement from the NOC Brunei Darussalam is against the human rights principles and HRWG’s core values to promote fundamental freedom rights, especially freedom of expression right,” he said.
“We take a note of how in 2013 the NOC Brunei Darussalam has breached the principles and values of ACSC/APF,” he added.
In a separate statement, the Indonesian Steering Committee to the Asean People’s Forum expressed concern over how the NOC has committed a “serious breach” of the values of the Asean People’s Forum: democracy, transparency, participatory and accountability.
The NOC, the Indonesian Steering Committee said, skipped “open participation” when it selected and invited speakers for sessions without consulting members of the committee.
The NOC, the group said, also limited the sessions to a few issues—skirting away workshops and discussions on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Gender Expression (Sogie), Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and the human rights of sex workers.
“We perceived this as an effort to shrink the civil society spaces,” the committee said.
Vien Tanjung, Indonesia representative for Asean Sogie Caucus, said they felt disrespected by the decision of the NOC.
“The forum is very important for us because it is a place where we can raise our voices and be heard. The civil society works with solidarity and engage the governments and we know that the governments have acknowledged the Asean People’s Forum,” Tanjung said in an online correspondence with NewsDesk.
“We have been part of the Asean People’s Forum since 2010 and in 2011, we made some recommendations which are to be handed to all 10 leaders of Asean countries. Now, in Brunei, the NOC limited and denied Sogie’s participation,” she added.
In a separate email, Tanjung group said the NOC’s decision to restrict and limit the discussion “for selective groups of people whose opinions and views are not aligned with the state’s views, namely sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE), sex work, sexual and reproductive health rights.”
“We are disappointed that even in spaces that are meant to foster and uphold democracy and human rights principles by and for civil society organizations, specific sectors of society are being discriminated against and are restricted,” Tanjung’s group said.
“People of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity as well as sex workers and advocates of sexual and reproductive rights are banned and given conditions from organizing educational workshops that promote understanding and address the human rights violations that we are subjected to because of our identity and orientation,” the group added.
The group also called on the Asean People’s Forum to “immediately address and correct this matter.”
“We are at the stage in our struggle for equality and respect that we will not accept discrimination, abuse and violence or state sanction as a part of our existence by the denial of our rights and our humanity,” they said.