Asean civil society groups on Saturday criticised the deterioration of human rights in Asean as well as the bloc's principle of non-interference, especially over the Rohingya crisis, which will reportedly receive no mention in the East Asia Summit statement.
Phil Robertson, the Asia Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch, expressed concern about the situation in Asean, describing it as "a human rights disaster".
"Asean officials talk a lot about responding to natural disasters, like cyclones and earthquakes. But why do they ignore human rights disasters that are happening every day at the hand of the government in the region?" he told a press conference titled "Civil Society Talks Back: Reaction After Meeting with Asean Foreign Ministers" on Saturday.
The event came after the civil society groups met Asean foreign ministers for the first time in five years.
Mr Robertson illustrated his point with the protracted Rohingya crisis which involves the abuse of tens of thousands and the burning down of hundreds of villages which drove out over 740,000 Rohingya from Myanmar's Rakhine state to Bangladesh.
"It is a human rights disaster when there are still Rohingya in closed IDP [internally displaced persons] camps in a situation resembling apartheid. It is a disaster when Myanmar's [State Counsellor] Aung San Suu Kyi and the civilian government work overtime to cover up the reality and frustrate efforts to allow for the safe and dignified return of the Rohingya to Myanmar with citizenship and protection," he said.
Other human rights disasters include the Philippines' war on drugs, Brunei's punishment of LGBT people, and Laos' enforced disappearances, he said.
Mr Robertson acknowledged some foreign ministers' efforts to address the Rohingya issue with Myanmar, but criticised the bloc for trying to ignore the elephant in the room.
"When you look at what happened in Rakhine state, this should be a top priority for any governments in the region. The fact that Asean allows this issue to be swept under the rug is shameful and outrageous.
Rachel Arinii, the East Asia and Asean Programme Manager of Forum Asia, said Asean always exploits the principle of non-interference as an excuse not to discuss human rights issues.