ASEAN leaders urged to plan joint response against COVID-19

A regional network of parliamentarians from Southeast Asia on Thursday urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) leaders to plan a joint response against the COVID-19 pandemic which addresses human rights concerns.

On Friday, Presidents and Prime Mnisters of the ASEAN countries will come together for the bloc’s annual summit which would be held online this year due to the travel restrictions because of the pandemic, reports Efe news.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc of Vietnam, the country which is current ASEAN chair, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) called for tackling vulnerabilities and inequalities that have surfaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic even though the region has maintained a lower number of those infected.

“The region failed to protect those in the most vulnerable situations, in particular its migrant workers and refugees. It has also seen a surge in restrictions on freedom of expression and in hateful rhetoric against marginalized groups,” Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights Member of Parliament, Malaysia Charles Santiago said in the letter.

The Malaysian leader said that the summit presented an opportunity to show that the region was facing health challenges and through promotion of inclusive, sustainable and equal society, it can be overcome.

Santiago said that the pandemic had widened the gender gap and has put women at greater risk of falling into poverty and face growing gender violence along with restrictions on access to health services.

APHR urged social and economic investments for small and medium enterprises and which could be used to prioritize environmentally sustainable policies and create quality employments.

“We urge you as leaders to see that these are necessary steps to not only avoid future shocks and crises, but also to be better prepared to absorb their impact and guarantee the long-term economic prosperity of the region,” the letter said and further requested efforts to achieve peace in the armed conflicts of the region and fight against xenophobia.

ASEAN comprises Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia. Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Southeast Asian countries altogether has some 660 million habitants and each country has reported COVID-19 cases, leading to imposition of strict travel restrictions within the country and closing of their border even for the members of the bloc.