In December 2008, the ASEAN Charter came into force. The Charter codifies existing ASEAN principles such as non-interference, but also recognizes the importance of states’ adherence to democracy, the rule of law, the respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

ASEAN Charter-Based Bodies

The Charter sets out the mandate and function of the different ASEAN bodies.

The ASEAN Summit is the supreme policy-making body of ASEAN. It meets twice a year and is comprised of the ASEAN Heads of State or Government.

The ASEAN Coordinating Council is the second highest body within ASEAN and is comprised of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers. Like the Summit, the Coordinating Council meets twice yearly. The Coordinating Council decides the criteria and rules for ASEAN engagement with external entities, including civil society organizations.

The ASEAN Community Councils include the:

  1. ASEAN Political-Security Community Council
  2. ASEAN Economic Community Council
  3. ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Council

These councils comprise of one Ministerial representative per ASEAN Member State. Each Council’s role is to coordinate the work of the different sectoral bodies within their respective “community” in order to achieve the objectives of the ASEAN pillars. Each Community Council meets twice annually. The Councils must implement ASEAN Summit decisions but can also submit reports and recommendations to the Summit for consideration.

The ASEAN Sectoral Ministerial Bodies bring together the ministers of specific sectors (for example, all of the labour ministers of all the member countries will make up one sectoral ministerial body). They report to the Community Councils and are tasked with strengthening cooperation within their sector and implementing decisions from the ASEAN Summit.

Each ASEAN Sectoral Ministerial Body has relevant senior officials committees (known as Senior Officials Meetings or SOM) and technical bodies to assist it in its work. A list of these subsidiary bodies can be found here.

The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the ASEAN Foundation are also ASEAN Charter-based bodies. The Foundation was established in 1997 to support social development programs aimed at reducing poverty and economic disparities within ASEAN, and to facilitate greater interaction among the people of ASEAN.

The Chairmanship of ASEAN rotates on a yearly basis between the different Member States. The Chairmanship of most ASEAN bodies, including the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights, also follow this pattern. For a list of ASEAN Chairmanships per year click here.

See an organogram of ASEAN here.

The ASEAN and National Secretariats

The ASEAN Secretariat is located in Jakarta and supports the day-to-day workings of ASEAN. Headed by the ASEAN Secretary-General, the Secretariat plays an important role in drawing up plans of action in collaboration with ASEAN Senior Officials to implement decisions made at ASEAN's high level meetings.

The Secretary General is appointed by the ASEAN Summit for a non-renewable term of five years. He or she is supported by four Deputy Secretary Generals (DSGs) from four different Member States. Two DSGs are nominated by Member States on a rotational basis for a three year non-renewable term. The other two DSGs are openly recruited based on merit for a renewable term of three years and are appointed by the ASEAN Coordinating Council. There is a DSG responsible for implementing each of the ASEAN Communities. The fourth DSG is responsible for Community and Corporate Affairs; providing guidance on research, public affairs and outreach programmes for the ASEAN Community.

One important role of the Secretariat is to facilitate ASEAN cooperation with external partners. The relevant Directorate for this is the Community Affairs Development Directorate. Find more information on how non-government organizations can engage with ASEAN here.

See an organogram of ASEAN Secretariat here.

Each ASEAN Member State also has an ASEAN National Secretariat whose role is to coordinate the implementation of ASEAN decisions at the national level. They also support any ASEAN meetings or activities that are held in-country.

ASEAN Diplomatic Representation

The ASEAN Charter requires that each Member State will have a Permanent Representative to ASEAN with the rank of Ambassador based in Jakarta. The Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) is tasked with supporting the work of the ASEAN Community Councils and ASEAN Sectoral Ministerial Bodies, and coordinating with the ASEAN National Secretariats and the ASEAN Secretariat. The Permanent Representatives must also facilitate cooperation with external partners.

ASEAN External Relations

Dialogue Partners
ASEAN Dialogue Partners are States or inter-governmental organizations with which ASEAN interacts on a formal basis. There are currently 10 dialogue partners: Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States of America. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) also has dialogue status and Pakistan is a sectoral dialogue partner. ASEAN has concluded free trade agreements with the majority of its dialogue partners, and holds regular meetings with groupings within these 10 partners such as the “ASEAN +3” annual meeting that involves ASEAN plus Japan, South Korea and China.

ASEAN Regional Forum
The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is a forum through which ASEAN engages with non-ASEAN states on political and security matters. It was formed in 1992 by way of the Singapore Declaration at the ASEAN Summit. The ARF consists of the 10 ASEAN Member States, the 12 ASEAN Dialogue Partners and one ASEAN Observer Country.

The ARF countries interact on a formal basis (Track I) through annual meetings and on an informal basis (Track II) through non-official seminars and workshops.

For more information on ASEAN External Relations, click here.