On 8 August 1967 the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) was signed in Bangkok, Thailand, bringing together 5 states that would form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Together, these countries worked towards the goal of establishing “a firm foundation for common action to promote regional cooperation in South-East Asia in the spirit of equality and partnership and thereby contribute towards peace, progress and prosperity in the region”. As a declaration, ASEAN operated for four decades without a concrete legal foundation. In 2007 at the 17th annual meeting, on the 40th anniversary of ASEAN’s establishment, member states gathered in Singapore to construct the legal and institutional foundations of ASEAN’s structure.

On 15 December 2008, the new ASEAN Charter (‘The Charter’) entered into force. The Charter serves as the institutional framework for achieving ASEAN’s goals. It provides ASEAN a legal status and codifies ASEAN norms, rules and values; sets clear targets for ASEAN; and establishes the foundation for accountability and compliance.

Although it significantly expanded the objects and purposes laid out in the ASEAN Declaration, the ASEAN Charter maintained the organisations original emphasis on peace, friendship and cooperation. The purposes of ASEAN under the Charter include, among others (emphasis added):

  • To maintain and enhance peace, security and stability and further strengthen peace-oriented values in the region
  • To ensure that the peoples and member states of ASEAN live in peace with the world at large in a just, democratic and harmonious environment
  • To alleviate poverty and narrow the development gap within ASEAN through mutual assistance and cooperation
  • To strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, with due regard to the rights and responsibilities of the member states of ASEAN
  • To respond effectively, in accordance with the principle of comprehensive security, to all forms of threats, transnational crimes and transboundary challenges
  • To enhance the well-being and livelihood of the peoples of ASEAN by providing them with equitable access to opportunities for human development, social welfare and justice
  • To strengthen cooperation in building a safe, secure and drug-free environment for the peoples of ASEAN
  • To promote a people-oriented ASEAN in which all sectors of society are encouraged to participate in, and benefit from, the process of ASEAN integration and community building

Prior to the ASEAN Charter, the regional organisation completed its work through four main bodies – ASEAN Ministerial Meetings; a Standing Committee; ad-hoc committees and permanent committees of specialists; and National Secretariats. Today, ASEAN’s main organs are laid out in Chapter IV of the Charter:

  • ASEAN Summit
  • ASEAN Coordinating Council
  • ASEAN Community Councils
  • ASEAN Sectoral Ministerial Bodies
  • Secretary General of ASEAN and ASEAN Secretariat
  • Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN
  • ASEAN National Secretariats
  • ASEAN Human Rights Body
  • ASEAN Foundation

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