ASEAN had embraced the concept of the rule of law, especially at the international level, ever since its inception in 1967, and it continues to be a cornerstone of the Association until now. First recognised in ASEAN’s founding document–the Bangkok Declaration–as a means to achieve regional peace and stability, the concept of the rule of law is now enshrined in the ASEAN Charter.

The concept of rule of law in the ASEAN Charter is read in conjunction with ASEAN’s commitment to democracy and good governance, adherence to constitutional government and to the promotion and protection of human rights, said H.E. Le Luong Minh, Secretary-General of ASEAN, in Brussels yesterday. Speaking at the Third High Level Meeting of the Inter-Regional Dialogue on Democracy held at the European Commission, SG Minh said that “the importance accorded to the rule of law has been brought to new heights in the ASEAN Charter where the rule of law is embraced officially as both a purpose and a principle”.

This, according to the Secretary-General, is despite the lack of authoritative definition of rule of law. “Although the core elements of the concept, such as equality before the law and the supremacy of the law, are widely accepted, the application of this concept into national political systems and legal structures varies greatly according to the specific contexts and capacities,” he elaborated. However, a broad conception of the rule of law incorporates elements such as a strong constitution with constitutional limits on power, human rights, an effective electoral system, a commitment to gender equality, laws for the protection of minorities and vulnerable groups and a strong civil society. In this regard, the rule of law is fundamental for any functioning democracy.

Apart from the ASEAN Charter, the Association has also developed a number of instruments and mechanisms to facilitate cooperation among the ASEAN Member States which help to uphold and strengthen the rule of law. “These instruments include the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, the ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint and the ASEAN Law Ministerial Meeting,” said Secretary-General Minh.

“The ASEAN Way has brought us to where we are now. War among the ASEAN Member States is unthinkable. And we are one of the fastest growing regions in the world today,” the Secretary-General highlighted.

The Third High Level Meeting, which discussed the rule of law, highlighted the experiences and achievements of regional organizations, and the UN in promoting the rule of law in the regions and globally. The Meeting was hosted by President Barroso of the European Commission and attended by the heads and representatives of regional organisations including the African Union, the League of Arab States, the Pacific Island Forum, the Organisation of American States and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. The meeting was co-organized by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) and the European Commission.

The Meeting also agreed to continue the constructive dialogue among the Heads of Regional Organizations on the topic of democracy and development at the Fourth High Level Meeting of the Inter-Regional Dialogue on Democracy which is expected to be held in Cairo in 2014. This Meeting will also discuss the development of the post-2015 Development Agenda and the role that Regional Organizations can play in it.

The ASEAN Secretariat was the host of the Second High Level Meeting which was held in 2012 with the theme “Promoting and Ensuring Inclusive Political Participation and Representation in our Regions”.

Please click here for the Press Statement of the Third High Level Meeting of the Inter-Regional Dialogue on Democracy.

ASEAN Charter can be downloaded on-line here.