Instead of asking whether regional organisations can promote democracy, a well-established conclusion, this article asks what type of democracy regional organisations can promote. Where their commitments to democracy are weak, regional organisations can promote the transition away from authoritarianism but cannot drive that process to completion with the creation of embedded liberal democracies. Under such circumstances regional organisations serve as regimes of bounded toleration, and can provide regional linkages that sustain defective democracies. Through examining the relationship between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Myanmar, three supporting roles are identified; regional legitimacy, defence from external pressure, and futureoriented accommodation. The presence of these linkages between defective democracies and regional organisations provides a caveat to the positive assessments of international agreements as socialisers of democracy.

In this non-peer reviewed roundtable (organised by myself and Dr. Christopher Hobson from Waseda University, Tokyo), five academics provide a personal account of how they approach research and teaching in an ethical manner.


In this article I argue that to capture ASEAN’s importance in the promotion and protection of human rights requires embedding the analysis of what ASEAN says and does into an awareness of the broader human rights space of which it is a part. The Southeast Asian human rights space has four dimensions: ASEAN, domestic institutions, civil society, and the global United Nations system, all of which are increasingly linked together in a complex whole. Revealing this human rights space suggests three conclusions. First, that ASEAN is important as an educator, enabler, standard-setter, and mobiliser of human rights, often despite its flawed institutional design. This importance is the product of its own activities and how it is used by other actors. Second, that ASEAN member states engage with each other on questions of human rights more broadly and not only through ASEAN, which illustrates the limits and resilience of the “ASEAN Way” as a set of procedural norms. Third, that ASEAN, despite its growing importance to human rights promotion, has become increasingly de-centred in that field, with serious consequences for ASEAN’s own security agenda.

This article is part of a special issue examining ASEAN at its 50 year anniversary. It includes contributions from Jürgen Rüland, Anja Jetschtke, Ki-Hyun Bae, Ralf Emmers, Donald Emmerson, Hyong Le Thu, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Eric Thompson, Helen Nesadurai, Simon Creek, Jörn Dosch and others. 

Assessing Indonesia's Normative influence. Wishful thinking or hidden strength?

2016 | Co-Authored with Dr. Susan Harris Rimmer (Griffith University)

This article takes a critical stance on Indonesia’s normative influence. Whilst normative influence does help explain why Indonesia matters beyond the widespread consensus that it is weak, we also feel that its Q4 influence is often overstated. By examining three components of influence, modelling, diplomacy and civil society activism and in each highlight the strengths, weaknesses and even wishful thinking that characterise debate over Indonesia. We conclude by arguing that the Jokowi approach to foreign policy destabilises the traditional make-up of normative influence and, if it is pursued into the future, will lead to a re-composition of that influence.

Whilst questions have been asked about whether ASEAN could, or even should, adopt the United Nation’s Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, this article is the first to ask why it has not done so already. ASEAN’s strong engagement with gender issues beyond the WPS agenda, together with the pressing need to address conflict and security concerns within ASEAN, make this an absence that needs explaining. I argue that the usual explanatory framework deployed to account for ASEAN “not doing” something — the weaknesses caused by consensus, unanimity, and the infamous “ASEAN Way” — do not explain the absence of the WPS agenda; ASEAN’s engagement with gender is too advanced for the “it does not want to” explanation to hold. Instead, I locate the failure to engage with the WPS agenda in a particular elite understanding of women as both non-political and vehicles for the realisation of economic and social wellbeing. This elite mindset, which both differs from that to be found within the ASEAN institutions dedicated to gender issues and serves as the key driver of ASEAN’s institutional design, has retarded engagement with WPS because it stands at odds with the active political agency of women that WPS promotes. Revealing this reason for ASEAN’s failure to institutionalise WPS provides a way to consider the future of this important set of norms. I argue that efforts to mainstream WPS must take account of this ingrained framing of women as apolitical as a key obstacle to overcome – activists must be concerned with the values that WPS is being mainstreamed into. 

Whilst the aims, institutions and even informal diplomatic culture of ASEAN has undergone tremendous change since 1997, the formal diplomatic code of conduct, first expressed in Article 2 of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, has not changed at all. Despite commitments to human rights and democracy, and the growing evidence of member states intervening in each others affairs or in some other way neglecting to follow norms of unanimity and consensus diplomacy, the non-intervention and freedom from external interference clauses are constantly invoked and valued. None of the theories scholars use to explain ASEAN has been able to understand why ASEAN’s formal and informal diplomatic culture have diverged in this way. This article argues that applying the recent “practice turn“ offers a greater understanding of both why ASEAN’s formal diplomatic code has remained constant whilst its aims and institutions and even informal diplomatic culture have evolved. Non-intervention, sovereign equality and freedom from external interference were the institutionalised response to an “ASEAN Rationality” that emerged over thirty years of cooperation in ASEAN since 1967, Post 1997 this practical sense fundamentally curtailed the options open to regional diplomats and was assumed automatically to be the right way to operate within ASEAN, even when the aims and institutions shifted in innovative ways. 

ASEAN’s engagement with human rights culminated in the creation of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration in 2012. The Declaration is fascinating in three ways: its institutional origins are surprising, it was agreed by states with very different positions on the role of human rights domestically, and it contains commitments both far in advance of some members and simultaneously be dangerously regressive. The three leading frameworks that currently interrogate the Declaration fail to provide convincing insights to all three of those dimensions. To correct these shortcomings this article applies the notion of an incompletely theorized agreement to the study of the Declaration, arguing that member states understand the Declaration in very different ways and for agreed to it for similarly diverse reasons. Further, I argue that the Declaration neither articulates a shared regional identity of respect for human rights, nor can they be understood as marking an early point towards the creation of this identity. Instead the current diversity of regional opinion on human rights and democracy is perceived as legitimate and will be enduring. The article concludes by considering whether this denudes the Declaration of any value, arguing that its importance will vary; the more progressive the member state the more important the Declaration will be. 

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The status of human rights in Southeast Asia is under increasing scrutiny as the process of community building culminates in the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). National, regional, and external civil society actors now populate the ASEAN “human rights space” pressuring member governments and ASEAN institutions. This article investigates the status of human rights in the ten member states of ASEAN by presenting the patterns of ratification, reservation, and fulfillment of the core global human rights treaties. This analysis suggests that, despite a growing number of treaty ratifications, compliance with the standards those treaties include remains elusive. Reservations, resistance to the optional protocols, and non-submission of reports to the relevant treaty bodies suggest that ratification has not led to full compliance. The article concludes that Southeast Asian states will continue to diversify with regard to human rights, placing great strain not only on the AICHR but ASEAN itself.

The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (the Declaration) has been welcomed as a most impressive commitment to the aim of protecting human rights within ASEAN ever created. At the same time others have criticized it as fatally flawed, creating no meaningful regional oversight of human rights.{cke_protected_1}[i]{cke_protected_2} In this short article I argue this range of reactions is explicable by understanding the Declaration as embodying what I term the “ASEAN synthesis” between progressive and traditionalist positions held by member states. Since 1997 the progressives have lobbied for substantial reform of ASEAN, including a commitment to human rights. The traditionalists, whilst not opposed to reform, envisage a traditional approach to regional affairs that prioritizes member-state security through commitments to sovereign equality and non-intervention. The ASEAN synthesis reconciles these two agendas by legitimizing the discussion of human rights within the regional framework whilst also reinforcing the principle of non-intervention, seriously curtailing the ability of regional institutions and declarations to engage in proactive rights protection.


Existing explanations for the emergence of human rights on the political agenda in ASEAN focus either on the role of external pressure on ASEAN mem- ber states to ‘do something’, or on the way those states copied the form, but not the function, of other regional organisations such as the EU. Both approaches tacitly acknowledge that given the strong preference for intergovernmental governance displayed by ASEAN, regardless of interpretations, that it was states that drove the institutionalisation of rights forwards. Through examining in detail the causes and consequences of the Vientiane Action Programme this article disagrees with that assertion. At crucial moments before and after 2004 it was the Working Group for the Establishment of an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, a track III actor, which both inserted human rights into ASEAN discussions and forged the link be- tween protecting those rights and the continuing success of ASEAN’s security goals. Through understanding the role of the Working Group as a norm entrepreneur, as- sisting in the localisation of human rights standards, this article suggests that existing explanations of ASEAN institutionalisation need to be revised to include a wider range of political dynamics than previously were acknowledged. 

 ASEAN’s engagement with human rights is characterized by an action- identity gap; member states have created impressive regional commitments while continually violating rights domestically. This gap suggests that member states of ASEAN have used rights for political ends, the en- hancement of ASEAN’s legitimacy in the eyes of critics, not because they are understood as morally correct. The strategic use of norms indi- cates that existing recourse to constructivist accounts of norms in ASEAN, currently the dominant explanatory framework, is incorrect. This article argues that an alternative, rational choice, framework for apprais- ing norms within ASEAN offers greater explanatory insight into how and why human rights emerged into ASEAN after 1997. This argument suggests a revised approach to understanding norm violation within ASEAN and through that a more accurate appraisal of the nature of contemporary ASEAN. 

There exists a significant and sustained difference between the ability of the European Union to successfully socialise those member states who have joined since the fall of Communism, and its apparent inability to similarly socialise Turkey. Despite some impressive legal and constitutional reforms since 2001, a key shortcoming remains, the unwillingness of many in the Turkish judiciary to implement those revised standards in a consistent way. Existing explanatory accounts of this inability would focus on the credibility of the Union offer of membership, the duration of negotiations or the importance of Turkish domestic standards. None of these, however, are able to account for why Turkey seems to occupy a half way position, exhibiting reformed laws but unreformed legal practice. To address this shortcoming this article shall combine existing scholarship on the importance of domestic normative contestation within Turkey with an appraisal of the shortcomings of the Union’s conditionality policy itself that emerge from the conceptual studies of conditionality. 

Explanations for ASEAN’s inability to more successfully influence Myanmar over the last decade have shifted from accusations that the organization does nothing to live up to its on-paper commitments to the belief that what it does is wholly ineffective. The reasons for this ineffectiveness are found in the normative and institutional architecture of ASEAN, specifically its lack of punitive sanction-based compliance mechanisms. Through focusing on ASEAN’s use of public pronouncements to express interests and desires, this article takes issue with such assertions. Specifically, ASEAN has been engaged in a strategy of rhetorical action to promote compliance with regional standards. To date it has been unsuccessful in that attempt not because of a lack of courts and commissions, but because it has been incoherent in its political strategy. At crucial moments ASEAN and its members remained more concerned with creating a unified position against external pressure than on developing a single policy towards Myanmar. This reaction fatally undermined the ability of ASEAN to influence Myanmar as it ensures the regime the continued external political cover from pressure that animated its desire to join ASEAN in 1997. This article suggests that correcting this shortcoming through the development of greater coherence is achievable within the existing ASEAN approach to managing regional affairs. 

The Human Rights Council of the United Nations was inaugurated in 2006 to much acclaim. Promising to defuse the tensions that had overwhelmed its maligned predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, the council is based on the belief that depoliticizing human-rights discussions would enhance the effectiveness of the United Nations in the realm of human-rights promotion. This article investigates just what type of compliance pressure the council, particularly through its Universal Periodic Review mechanism, has been able to develop over countries through comparing the genesis and workings of the council to existing accounts of how actors influence each other in international politics. It is argued that the reforms instigated by the council may have shifted the system away from the overt politicization previously experienced, but they have certainly not removed totally the role of state politics in rights promotion. As such, they represent conceptually a middle position, identified by Thomas Risse, known as “rhetorical action.” Identifying this allows for an analysis of the potential success of the council, as existing accounts of this type of compliance pressure have developed “scope conditions” about what the precursors for successful compliance are. Using these conditions, the article concludes that the council's prospects may not live up to the acclaim that surrounded its creation.