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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Institutional change in regional organizations : the emergence and evolution of ASEAN norms Poole, Avery Dorothy Howard


In November 2007, the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed their first Charter, and hailed it as a ‘milestone’ for regional cooperation. The Charter was designed to provide the ‘legal and institutional framework’ for ASEAN, and to give it a ‘legal personality’. It refers to ‘strengthening’ the principle of democracy and to ‘promoting and protecting’ human rights. It also states that ASEAN ‘shall establish an ASEAN human rights body’. The Charter raises an empirical puzzle given the ASEAN norms of sovereignty and ‘non-interference in the internal affairs of one another’, which are reiterated in ASEAN declarations and agreements (including the Charter). Moreover, the significant political, ethnic and cultural diversity among member states traditionally underpins the understanding that regime type and human rights are ‘off the table’ in (official) ASEAN dialogue. Thus, why did ASEAN member states adopt text in the Charter referring to democracy and human rights? Further, why was the debate about the references to human rights far more contentious than that about the references to democracy? This dissertation traces the negotiations leading to the ASEAN Charter, and explores the processes through which member states accepted the references to democracy and human rights, and agreed to establish an ASEAN human rights body. I argue that perceptions of legitimacy influence states’ positions on regional ‘normative statements’. The emergence and evolution of regional norms are shaped by political elites’ perceptions of how members of a regional organization view the legitimacy of the organization and its norms (which I call ‘internal regional legitimacy’). These are in turn shaped by elites’ perceptions of how their societies regard the legitimacy of their national governments (‘domestic political legitimacy’). Regional norms are also shaped by elites’ perceptions of how those outside the region view the legitimacy of the regional organization and its norms (‘external regional legitimacy’). The dissertation’s exploration of various actors’ perceptions of legitimacy in the adoption of the Charter helps to explain the diverse understandings of norms by member states. Moreover, it contributes to theoretical understandings of the emergence and evolution of norms in an environment of ‘normative contestation’.

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