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Citizenship and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

The most recent issue of China’s World – a twice yearly journal published by the Future Citizen Institute examining the many issues involved in China’s interaction with globalisation – is concerned with China’s foreign relations with its neighbours, including the members of ASEAN. In 1967, the ‘Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ was founded by means of the ASEAN Declaration (or Bangkok Declaration) and has meanwhile been acceded to by all countries in the region apart from East Timor.


Several decades later, in 2007, the ASEAN Charter was adopted, calling for more enhanced collaboration on a number of issues. Most recently, in 2012, the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. According to the preamble, the Contracting Parties are ‘convinced that th[e] Declaration will help establish a framework for human rights cooperation in the region and contribute to the ASEAN community building process’.

The Declaration addresses the right to a nationality and the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation in Article 18 by stating that ‘every person has the right to a nationality as prescribed by law. No person shall be arbitrarily deprived of such nationality nor denied the right to change that nationality’. The dependence on national legislation makes this a rather weak provision, in line with our previous conclusion that there is currently no enforceable right to a nationality.

Asia is a continent where national autonomy in matters of nationality is jealously guarded, which is partly explained by the fact that a majority of countries only gained independence from colonial rule in the 20th century or subsequently seceded from a territory that was created after such independence (e.g. Bangladesh and Pakistan in relation to India, and Singapore in relation to Malaysia). This also means that many Asian countries do not accept dual nationality, which goes against the international trend that we have witnessed on other continents in recent decades. Moreover, continent-wide initiatives in the field of citizenship, such as the 2014 Brazil Declaration, in which UNHCR and representatives of Latin American and the Caribbean countries adopted a road map to end statelessness by 2024, or the Resolution on the Right to Nationality adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2013 are absent in the region.

ASEAN is often mentioned alongside other regional blocs such as MERCOSUR, ECOWAS or the Gulf Cooperation Council. The ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights indeed stresses the importance of free movement, and in 2017 the ASEAN Declaration on Innovation highlighted that in order to strengthen the impact of ‘science, technology and innovation’ the movement of capital and talent should be facilitated.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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