With the current geo-political concerns, threats of terrorism and political and financial instability affecting the countries in the region, governments are determined to forge greater and closer cooperation and collaboration in combating whatever common ills that affect their societies. In this globalized world, people and governments have become more understandably interconnected. Regional cooperation mechanisms, economic blocs and other inter-governmental agencies and state coalitions already in place are all the more being made sure to function effectively in protecting the interests of states. Unfortunately though, states’ official structures have become more and more undemocratic. Ironically, the people who make up the states are increasingly being marginalized.
The region has been host to a number of authoritarian regimes, dictatorships or tyrants of varying shades—from the ruthless and outright militarists, to the pseudo-nationalists or even socialists. At present, the human rights situation in most countries still remain unchanged, if not getting worse. Conflicts and wars are still going on, its root causes remain unresolved and peace remains to be an elusive dream to most peoples in some parts of the region. The Asia-Pacific region, not surprisingly has emerged as the part of the world where dynamic peoples movements continue to proliferate. Civil society engagements geared towards parallel trend of democratization and reformation almost always initiated by the people themselves has been growing and expanding.
There has been increasing recognition for peoples to re-assert themselves. In this age of globalization, the concept of trans-border peoples alliance becomes very relevant. To quote Muto Ichiyo in a 1997 article, “for the people of the world to emerge as the determinant of global affairs they must be constituted as an entity. The trans-border people’s alliance is conceived as such a body”. Democracy need to be further asserted, consolidated, sustained and expanded so as to develop a cogent solidarity front against the onslaughts buffeting it. This is the reason why international solidarity among Asia-Pacific peoples is of strategic value especially at this point in time. We are at this historic moment that trans-border peoples alliances are needed. Alliances that will gradually shift power relationships in favor of the majority of the people who have been marginalized and repressed, and eventually create a new democratic global governance.
One such success story of a solidarity alliance is of the Asia-Pacific Coalition for East Timor (APCET). APCET initiated and pursued a vigorous campaign in the region in support of the self-determination struggle of the East Timorese people. It succeeded in disseminating basic information of the Timorese cause; raised their issue in various venues and platforms ranging from the media, academe, the streets to the halls of parliaments, embassies and the UN itself. But the uniqueness of APCET was that it is a coalition mainly of South peoples that worked for another South people—it epitomized south-south solidarity.
Even then, it was recognized that the situation in the region requires a greater need for peoples movements and civil society groups to consolidate its advocacies and that there is a need for civil society to be more comprehensive and prompt in its response, more unified in stance, more transparent in its dealings and networking and more accountable to its masses and constituents.
Several regional key NGO figures in leadership, middle and even on-the-ground levels have expressed on several occasions for years now, the need to forge greater cohesion and closer cooperation as a parallel effort to state-sponsored associations. It was thought that a consultation of sorts among the key NGO formations in the region needed to be convened to harmonize and consolidate its work. There have been several attempts in the past to coordinate activities, campaigns, networks, data and even resources among kindred groups. But most of the time these initiatives have almost always been within the ambit of integrating this in already existing frameworks or activities. There have always been attempts to discuss this phenomena or need especially when the same figures meet while attending some conferences or meetings together.
With the mandate given to the Asia-Pacific Coalition for East Timor by its members and constituents to finally close the curtain for APCET and transform it into a broader coalition that will tackle issues other than East Timor, the new regional coalition, Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition (APSOC) was formed. This solidarity formation will help launch or coordinate regional campaigns on issues affecting the peoples of the region, such as the issue of Burma, Aceh, West Papua, Mindanao, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indochina and the US war on terror.
The bottomline is to create a mechanism that without prejudice to the respective activities and programs of the network members, a common public stance that could deliver a more telling blow to the “adversaries” or to those with whom we engage, will be collectively undertaken so that greater and lasting impact will be accomplished whether in the national or regional levels.
More specifically, APSOC helps consolidate efforts of the various groups already working on national and regional issues and amplify those efforts in the international arena. Based on these, APSOC shapes regional campaigns if and when necessary.
APSOC was launched and formalized in May 2005 with the following basis of unity:
- concern for human rights of peoples in the region and other parts of the world
- support for the right to self-determination of peoples as enshrined in UN principles
- prevention and/or resolution of conflicts
- mutual access to information and funding opportunities
- complementation instead of overlapping of programs and activities
APSOC’s founding members are:
- Indonesian Human Rights Committee (IHRC) – New Zealand
- National Coalition for the Union of Burma (NCUB) – Burma
- Alternative ASEAN Network for Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)
- Timor Leste Coalition for the Asia-Pacific (TILCAP) – East Timor
- Friends of the Third World/Center for Peoples Dialogue (FTW/CPD) – Sri Lanka
- Asian Students Association (ASA) – Hongkong
- Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) – Philippines
- Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) – Mindanao
- Yayasan Anak Dusun Papua (YADUPA) – West Papua
- Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) – Malaysia
- Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia) – Thailand
- Support Committee for Human Rights in Aceh (SCHRA)
- Philippine Solidarity for East Timor and Indonesia (PhilSETI) – Philippines
- Solidarity Without Border (SOLIDAMOR)- Indonesia
- Pax Christi – New Zealand