International organizations have been described metaphorically as the Frankenstein of international law. They are created by states and yet more often than not they assume powers that humble their creators. This paper presents a different metaphor to describe the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN]. Created in 2007, ASEAN, it is argued, resembles the fettered wayang kulit in Indonesian theatre. It is an international organization which is controlled by its Member States in various ways. This paper analyzes three forms of ASEAN's fetters: constitutional, extra-constitutional, and practical. Constitutional fetters refer to the structural control embedded in the ASEAN Charter. Extra-constitutional fetters refer to rules of procedure that close the openness of the constitutional text. Finally, practical fetters refer to the ways the Member States limit ASEAN's legal personality in practice. Through these control mechanisms, ASEAN has so far acted on the stage of world politics according to the narrative of its puppet masters.
Assistant Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines Diliman. The author has participated in cause-oriented litigation and is presently a PhD candidate at the University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Law. He would like to thank Dr James Fry for reading an early draft of the paper.
1. PIRIS, Jean Claude and WOON, Walter Cheong Ming, Towards a Rules-Based Community: An ASEAN Legal Service (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015). While ASEAN was established on 8 August 1967, its constitutionalization only came in 2007. The ASEAN Charter became effective on 15 December 2008.
2. Wayang kulit is a popular shadow puppet play in Indonesia.
3. MAHBUBANI, Kishore and SNG, Jeffrey, The ASEAN Miracle (Singapore: Ridge Books, 2017); FREISTEIN, Katja, “A Living Constitution: Promises of the ASEAN Charter” (2013) 26 Pacific Review 407.
4. DESIERTO, Diane, “ASEAN's Constitutionalization of International law: Challenges to Evolution under the New Asian Charter” (2011) 49 Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 268 at 274.
5. KLABBERS, Jan, PETERS, Anne, and ULFSTEIN, Geir, The Constitutionalization of International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) at 19.
6. Ibid., at 20; see also WONG, Rueben, “Model Power or Reference Point? The EU and the ASEAN Charter” (2012) 25 Cambridge Review of International Affairs 669. He argues that the EU was a reference point.
7. WHITE, Nigel, The Law of International Organisations, 3rd ed. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016) at 89.
8. F. HARRIS, William II, The Interpretable Constitution (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993) at 1.
9. CHEMERINSKY, Erwin, Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies, 3rd ed. (New York: Aspen Publishers, 2006) at 6.
10. White, supra note 7 at 76.
11. Ibid., at 85.
12. ALVAREZ, Jose, International Organizations as Law-Makers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) at 65.
15. Ibid., at 66.
16. Ibid., at 67.
17. PORTMAN, Roland, Legal Personality in International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) at 80.
18. Reparations for Injuries Suffered in the Service of the United Nations, Advisory Opinion  I.C.J. Rep. 174 at 9, online: <www.icj-cij.org/files/case-related/4/004-19490411-ADV-01-00-EN.pdf>.
19. Legality of the Threat or Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion  I.C.J. Rep. 226, cited in QUAYLE, Peter, “Treaties of a Particular Type: The ICJ's Interpretative Approach to the Constituent Instruments of International Organizations” (2016) 29 Leiden Journal of International Law 853 at 854.
20. KLABBERS, Jan, “Constitutionalism Lite” (2004) 1 International Organizations’ Law Review 31 at 44.
21. Ibid., at 32.
22. Ibid., at 38–40.
23. Ibid., at 44.
24. Ibid., at 47.
26. Ibid., at 37.
27. KLABBERS, Jan, An Introduction to International Organizations Law, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015) at 3–5.
28. Ibid., at iii.
29. See WOON, Walter Cheong Ming, “The ASEAN Charter Ten Years On” (2017) 39 Contemporary Southeast Asia 245 at 249. After writing this paper, I came across Walter Woon's use of the wayang kulit metaphor to describe ASEAN's behind the scenes diplomacy. My own use of the metaphor is different as it describes ASEAN as a fettered international organization.
30. Scholars have argued that international legitimacy has been ASEAN's concern for the constitutionalization of human rights and the dispute settlement mechanism. See infra, note 75. Indeed, as Klabbers pointed out, constitutionalism per se provides a presumption that a “constitutional regime is a legitimate regime”.
31. ASEAN Charter, art. 7(1), 15 December 2008, online: ASEAN <www.asean.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/11.-October-2015-The-ASEAN-Charter-18th-Reprint-Amended-updated-on-05_-April-2016-IJP.pdf>.
32. Ibid., art. 7(2).
33. Ibid., art. 7(2d).
34. Ibid., art. 7(2c).
35. Ibid., art. 7(2b).
36. Ibid., art. 7(2e).
37. Ibid., art. 7(2f).
38. Desierto, supra note 4 at 297.
40. ASEAN Charter, art. 20(1), supra note 31.
41. WOON, Walter Cheong Ming, The ASEAN Charter: A Commentary (Singapore: National University of Singapore, 2016) at 157–8. While ASEAN consensus appears to consolidate state control, it clearly becomes a “fetter” when Member States disagree and no voting mechanism is in place to break the deadlock. No wonder Woon noted the circularity of art. 20(2). The ASEAN Summit must decide by consensus; but when there is no consensus, it must “decide how a specific decision can be made”. The ASEAN way of consensus and non-intervention has also been criticized as incompatible with the enforcement of universal human rights. It ties Member States and ASEAN's human rights body and keeps them silent on human rights violations committed within the community. See infra note 74. Thus, it can be argued that the now constitutionalized principle and practice of the ASEAN way must be seen as a constitutional fetter.
42. ASEAN Charter, art. 7(2g), supra note 31.
43. Woon, supra note 41 at 112.
44. ASEAN Charter, art. 11(7), supra note 31.
45. Ibid., art. 11(3).
46. Ibid., art. 11(2b).
47. Ibid., art. 11(2c).
48. Ibid., art. 11(2d).
49. Ibid., art. 22(2).
50. Ibid., art. 27.
51. Woon, supra note 41 at 113.
52. The Charter of the United Nations, art. 97, 24 October 1945, online: United Nations <www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/04-wto.pdf>; see also art. VI(2) of the World Trade Organization. The provision does not state a power to dismiss. Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, art. VI(2), 15 April 1994, online: World Trade Organization <www.wto.org./english/docs_e/legal_e/04-wto.pdf>. Although the WTO has been characterized as a “member-driven organization”, its Director-General and secretariat still hold influence. Pascal Lamy (former Director-General), for instance, could persuade the G20 to issue a proclamation. CHONG, Xu Yi and WELLER, Patrick, The Working World of International Organizations: Authority, Capacity, Legitimacy (Oxford: Oxford university Press, 2018) at 81, 103.
53. SCHERMERS, Henry and BLOOKER, Niels, International Institutional Law (Leiden: Brill, 2011) at 353.
54. SIMMA, Bruno, The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) at 1025, 1037.
55. Woon, supra note 41 at 248.
56. Piris and Woon, supra note 1 at 59: “Is he just to be a glorified secretary or something more significant?”
57. Woon, supra note 41 at 116.
58. GONZALEZ-MANALO, Rosario, “Drafting ASEAN's Tomorrow: The Eminent Persons Group and the ASEAN Charter” in KOH, Tommy et al. , eds., Making of the ASEAN Charter (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Inc., 2009) 44, as cited in CHEN, Zhida, “ASEAN and its Problematic Treaty-Making Practice: Can International Organizations Conclude Treaties ‘on behalf’ of their Member States?” (2014) 4 Asian Journal of International Law 319 at 395.
59. Woon, supra note 41 at 115. Woon cited this self-description of former Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong.
60. Ibid., at 116.
61. Chong and Weller, supra note 52 at 56.
62. ASEAN Charter, art. 41(3), supra note 31.
63. The ICJ once described the World Health Organization Charter by saying that this Charter creates a legal subject “endowed with a certain autonomy”. Cited in Anne PETERS, “Membership in the Global Constitutional Community” in Klabbers et al., supra note 5 at 208.
64. Chong and Weller, supra note 52 at 57. The authors write that “(t)he position of the heads of IOs give them an international standing”.
65. Woon, supra note 41 at 168–9. Woon writes: “Though this clause refers to a request by the disputing parties … [t]here is in practice nothing to stop the Secretary-General offering his good offices.”
66. CHESTERMAN, Simon, FRANCK, Thomas M., and MALONE, David M., Law and Practice of the United Nations: Documents and Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) at 151–2.
67. Chong and Weller, supra note 52 at 232.
68. Ibid., at 57. The authors also argue that “[l]eaders of IOs have the opportunity to interpret the missions of their organizations … [they] could seek to stretch the interpretations of those agreements …”, ibid., at 61.
69. Ibid., at 234.
70. See TAN, Hsien-Li, The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) at 151–60. Tan views the AICHR as a positive development. She believes that the AICHR will evolve into a more powerful body.
71. Ibid., at 138.
72. Terms of Reference for of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, 5.1 , online: ASEAN <www.asean.org/storage/images/archive/publications/TOR-of-AICHR.pdf>.
73. Ibid., 5.2.
74. AGUIRRE, Daniel and PIETROPAOLI, Irene, “Human Rights Protection the ASEAN Way: Non-Intervention and the Newest Human Rights System” (2012) 1 International Human Rights Law Review 276 at 292.
75. POOLE, Avery, “The World is Outraged: Legitimacy in the Making of the ASEAN Charter” (2015) 37 Contemporary Southeast Asia 355 at 366. The pursuit for international legitimacy has also been noted in ASEAN's creation of a Dispute Settlement Procedure. KORTE, Annika, “Why Did NAFTA and ASEAN set up Dispute Settlement Procedures?” in BORZEL, Tanja A., GOLTERMANN, Lukas, LOHAUS, Mathis, and STRIEBINGER, Kai, eds., Road to Regionalism: Genesis, Design, and Effects of Regional Organizations (Burlington: Ashgate, 2012), at 101.
76. Terms of Reference, 4, supra note 72.
77. Tan, supra note 70 at 157. The author describes the TOR as “soft-law”.
78. ARENDSHORST, John, “The Dilemma of Non-Interference: Myanmar, Human Rights, and the ASEAN Charter” (2009) 8 Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights 102 at 113.
79. Aguirre and Pietropaoli, supra note 74 at 283. This paper cites Myanmar as “the clearest example of the political stalemate concerning human rights caused by the ASEAN way of politics”.
80. CHONG, Eileen Pei Shong, “The Role of Non-Domestic Factors in the Perpetuation of the Rohingya Crisis” (2017) 9 Yonsei Journal of International Studies 128 at 141.
81. “The Philippine Drug War” Human Rights Watch (2017), online: Human Rights Watch <www.hrw.org/tag/Philippines-war-drugs>.
82. “Philippines: Military Executing Leftist Activists, UN Independent Expert Says” UN (26 November 2007), online: United Nations <https://news.un.org/en/story/2007/11/240922-philippines-military-executing-leftist-activists-un-independent-expert-finds>.
83. JOHNSON, David T. and FERNQUEST, Jon, “Governing through Killings: The War on Drugs in the Philippines” (2018) Asian Journal of Law and Society 1.
84. “Annual Report” AICHR (2017), online: AICHR <http://aichr.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/AICHR-ANNUAL-REPORT-2017-adopted-on-11-July-2017.pdf>.
85. Human Rights Watch states that “[t]he security forces of the Philippines and Myanmar are implicated in alleged crimes against humanity …”. “Human Rights in Southeast Asia: Briefing Materials for the ASEAN-Australia Summit” Human Rights Watch (2018), online: Human Rights Watch <https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/asean_australia0318.pdf> at 2.
86. RENSHAW, Catherine, “The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration 2012” (2013) 13 Human Rights Law Review 557 at 562.
87. Terms of Reference, 1.4, supra note 72.
88. Tan, supra note 70 at 157–8. The author points to the contradiction between the promotion of universal human rights and the regionalist and non-confrontational approaches specified in the TOR.
89. DIXON, Martin, MCCORQUODALE, Robert, and WILLIAMS, Sarah, Cases and Materials on International Law, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) at 175.
90. CRAWFORD, James, The Creation of States under International Law, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) at 149.
91. Aguirre and Pietropaoli, supra note 74 at 282.
92. Cited in JONES, Deborah Basha, “ASEAN's ICHR: A Pale Shadow of What It Could Have Been” (2012) 2 Asia Pacific Journal of Human Rights and the Law 1 at 13.
93. ASEAN Charter, art. 51, supra note 31.
94. Woon, supra note 41 at 237.
95. Ibid., at 125.
96. VENZKE, Ingo and THIO, Li-Ann, The Internal Effects of ASEAN External Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016) at 20.
97. Woon, supra note 41 at 124.
98. Ibid., at 125; Piris and Woon, supra note 1 at 181.
99. Rule 2(1), Rules of Procedure for the Interpretation of the ASEAN Charter , online: <www.asean.org/storage/images/archive/documents/ROP%20for%20Interpretation%20of%20ASEAN%20Charter.pdf>.
100. Woon, supra note 41 at 237.
101. Rules of Procedure, Rule 2(2), supra note 99.
102. GARDINER, Richard, Treaty Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) at 142.
103. CRAWFORD, James, Brownlie's Principles of Public International Law, 8th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) at 380.
104. Gardiner, supra note 102 at 152.
105. Ibid., at 151.
106. Ibid., at 152.
107. ORAKHELASHVILI, Alexander, The Interpretation of Acts and Rules in Public International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) at 394.
108. DAMME, Isabelle VAN, Treaty Interpretation by the WTO Appellate Body (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) at 281.
109. Orakhelashvili, supra note 107 at 394.
111. Woon, supra note 41 at 237.
113. KOLB, Robert, The Law of Treaties: An Introduction (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2016) at 128; Orakhelashvili, supra note 107 at 285.
114. TALMON, Stefan, “Jus Cogens after Germany v. Italy: Substantive and Procedural Rules Distinguished” (2012) 25 Leiden Journal of International Law 979 at 981.
115. RUBIN, Edward, “Dynamic Statutory Interpretation in the Administrative State” (2002) 2 Issues in Legal Scholarship 1 at 3.
116. Kolb, supra note 113 at 128.
117. ATIYAH, Patrick Selim and SUMMERS, Robert S., Form and Substance in Anglo-American Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987) at 61.
118. Talmon, supra note 114 at 981.
119. Ibid., at 982.
121. Woon, supra note 41 at 21, 237.
122. Crawford, supra note 103 at 378. “[T]he parties have competence to interpret a treaty”; Kolb, supra note 113 at 129.
123. White, supra note 7 at 113.
124. Klabbers, supra note 27 at 42.
125. White, supra note 7 at 114.
127. Ibid., at 118.
128. ASEAN Charter, art. 3, supra note 31.
129. Ibid., art. 47(7).
130. Rules of Procedure for Conclusion of International Agreements by ASEAN , online: <www.asean.org/storage/images/archive/documents/ROP%20for%20Conclusion%20of%20International%20Agreements%20by%20ASEAN.pdf> [ROPCIA].
131. Ibid., Rule 2.
132. Chen, supra note 58.
133. Ibid., at 418.
134. See SEAH, Daniel, “Problems Concerning the International Law-Making Practice of ASEAN: A Reply to Chen Zhida” (2015) 6 Asian Journal of International Law 265.
135. Opinion on the Free Trade Agreement Between the European Union and the Republic of Singapore  Court of Justice of the European Union, online: <http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=190727&doclang=EN>.
136. WHEATHERILL, Stephen, Cases & Materials on EU Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) at 76.
137. ROPCIA, supra note 130, Rule 1.
138. Seah, supra note 134 at 288. This makes ROPCIA an extra-constitutional fetter of ASEAN. The rules attempt to close the openness of the constitutional text.
139. CHESTERMAN, Simon, “Does ASEAN Exist: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a Legal Person” in TIWARI, Sivakant, ed., ASEAN: Life after the Charter (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010), at 31.
140. Ibid., at 32.
142. CREMONA, Marise, KLEIMANN, David, LARIK, Joris, VENESSON, Pascal, and LEE, Rena, ASEAN's External Agreements: Law, Practice, and the Quest for Collective Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015) at 131.
143. Ibid., at 130.
144. Shea, supra note 134 at 280.
145. Cremona et al., supra note 142 at 130.
147. Ibid., at 86.
148. Ibid., at 131.
149. Venzke and Thio, supra note 96 at 71.
152. Ibid., at 72.
153. Agreement Establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area, 27 February 2009, online: ASEAN <www.asean.org/storage/images/2013/economic/afta/AANZFTA/Agreement%20Establishing%20the%20AANZFTA.pdf>.
154. Cremona et al., supra note 142 at 92.
155. Agreement on Cultural Cooperation Between the Governments of the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Government of the Russian Federation, 20 October 2010, online: ASEAN <www.asean.org/storage/archive/documents/Agreement-on-Cultural-Cooperation.pdf>.
156. I do not intend to have an exhaustive list and analyses of the ASEAN treaties as this has already been done by other scholars. The work of Cremona et al., and Venzke and Thio exhaustively analyze ASEAN treaty practice.
157. Cremona et al., supra note 142 at 86.
159. Venzke and Thio, supra note 96 at 31.
161. Cremona et al., supra note 142 at 88.
162. Venzke and Thio, supra note 96 at 40.
163. Cremona et al., supra note 142 at 112.
164. Klabbers, supra note 27 at 47.
165. BROLMANN, Catherine, The Institutional Veil in Public International Law: International Organisations and the Law of Treaties (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2007) at 271.
166. Cremona et al., supra note 142 at 133.
* Assistant Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines Diliman. The author has participated in cause-oriented litigation and is presently a PhD candidate at the University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Law. He would like to thank Dr James Fry for reading an early draft of the paper.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.
* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.
Usage data cannot currently be displayed