亞 洲 公 民 未 來 協 會(Asia Citizen Future Association, ACFA)成立的宗旨是連結台灣與東南亞的公民社會，並共同發展抵禦公民空間緊縮的能力與策略。有別於國際組織常見以提供個人避險遷移(relocation)與緊急資金(urgent grants)一類即時性與短期的援助，亞洲公民未來協會更加重視於建立有利台灣與東南亞公民社會合作的基礎建設。我們相信，支持跨公民社會維持對話與日常連結，才能產生抵禦的知識和行動;而不間斷的行動，才能稱為韌性 (resilience)。同時，組織作為許多個人的集 體，擁有組織規章、治理與文化，更存在有別於個人行動者的需求，在公民社會與運動中皆扮演關鍵角色。因此，提供公民社會組織(civil society organization, CSO)存續的條件與支援，是迎戰公民空間緊縮的關鍵。推動跨公民社會 合作的基礎建設，是區域內一個務實且緊迫的目標，當前仍缺少一些關鍵條件，有待我們共同努力創造。
本研究的核心問題是:台灣作為鄰近東協區域的民主國家，是否有能力提供具備包容性的替代性公民空間(alternative civic space)，接待來自東南亞正激增的尋求庇護 CSOs，以減輕東南亞公民空間緊縮危機對組織與行動者造成的直接負面影響。藉由承擔保護人權捍衛者的責任，維護他們行使人權與追求正義的動能，進一步支持區域內的民主與人權發展。
透過訪談在台設立之國際/外國公民社會組織，本研究分析外籍人士在台設立社會組織、聘雇、納稅及社會保險之現況與挑戰，以討論台灣公民空間對東南亞 CSOs 的可近性。透過文本分析，足見台灣結社相關法規仍和國際人權 法與規範存在明顯不一致。相關立法除了仍以「管制」為核心思維，《人團法》更限制了社會組織僅能以「協會」一種形式立案，並針對發起人人數、發起人資格、戶籍等設有限制，導致依法結社不易。
另一方面，基於全球範圍內現存之東南亞公民空間緊縮研究成果，本研究深度訪談來自七個東南亞國家的組織及其決策者，著重於理解他們在高壓環境下持續從事組織活動的相應策略與需求。組織遷移至海外，本質上可視為組織主動控制風險與應對威脅的一種行動，身處公民空間緊縮的危機與趨勢中，單單以流亡來描繪組織搬遷至海外的行動，或許已不足夠真正理解這項決策的影響力。本研究並非試圖以七 個組織的個別經驗普遍化東南亞 CSOs 在公民空間緊縮下的處境;相反，透過理解面臨危殆的組織應對各自處境所採行的多元策略及思維過程，可以使我們理解對東南亞 CSOs 遷移決策具備影響性的關鍵因素，使讀者理解東南亞 CSOs 對台灣作為替代性公民空間抱持的觀點與評價，更可能促使台灣更務實的理解自身條件與思索台灣在區域中的角色。
2023 年 8 月於台灣出版
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FOREWORD: When Civil Society Organizations Are Seeking Asylum, Is Taiwan an 'Alternative Civic Space' for Them?
Bangkok and Hong Kong were once significant regional hubs for civil society organizations in East and Southeast Asia. Both vibrant and abundant cities hosted organizations from within and outside the region. Grassroots organizations, activists, international foundations, and international non- governmental organizations (INGOs) carried out all kinds of advocacy, trainings, debates, networking, and collaborations for various issues in these hubs. Today, we are still grieving for the bloodshed and crisis in Hong Kong. But we are, at the same time, witnessing Bangkok—once considered the NGO capital of Southeast Asia—becoming a dangerous jungle for asylum seekers, human rights defenders, dissidents and CSOs.
It was a quick process from the initial signs of the deterioration of civic space to its total closure. We have seen a proliferation of political and social control, with the justifications of national security, public health, development, and so forth, pushing their way into our everyday life—making the practice of fundamental human rights costly. Heavy criminal offenses are no longer reserved for prominent social movement leaders or political dissidents, but the survival of civil society organizations (CSOs) are themselves at stake. In such an environment, people become keenly aware of the sometimes subtle, sometimes visible “red line”, and come to know how to avoid and not to step on it. This “red line” and the gradual process where people learn to be aware of it and to avoid it, is the hard evidence of the shrinking civic space that has come to gradually entrap the ‘ordinary people’.
The Asia Citizen Future Association (ACFA) was established with an aim to connect the civil societies among Taiwan and Southeast Asia and to develop the capacity and strategies to defend civic space. Compare to international organizations that tend to provide short-term urgent grants and individual relocation aid, ACFA focuses on building the infrastructure that facilitates collaboration between civil societies in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. We believe that the necessary support for cross-civil society dialogue and regular connections is what generates knowledge and actions for resistance, and that constant actions is what is known as resilience. At the same time, organizations, as collectives of individuals, which have organization charters, governance, and internal cultures of their own, inherently have different needs from the individual activists’ when confronting the threats of closing civic space. Organizations play crucial roles in both the civil society and social movements. Consequently, providing the necessary support for the survival of CSOs is the key to confront the deterioration of regional civic space. Establishing infrastructure for cross-civil society collaboration, then, is a pragmatic and urgent goal for the region, but for this to occur, there are a number of conditions that need to be met.
The research project "Scrutinizing the Accessibility of Taiwan for CSOs From Southeast Asia" and the research report "Exploring Taiwan's Role Amid the Crisis of Closing Civic Space in Southeast Asia" are the primary achievements of the first year of the Asia Citizen Future Association. This report is also our response to the pressing question: 'what role can Taiwan play amid the crisis of closing civic space in Southeast Asia?'
The central question of this research is: whether Taiwan, as a democracy adjacent to the ASEAN region, has the capacity to provide an inclusive 'alternative civic space' to accommodate the surge of asylum-seeking CSOs from Southeast Asia, so as to alleviate the challenge of closing civic space witnessed in Southeast Asia. By assuming the responsibility to protect human rights defenders and allowing them to maintain momentum in practicing human rights and pursue justice, we will be able to further support the development of democracy and human rights in the region.
This study covers two dimensions, with policy recommendations for the Taiwanese government and international donors in the final two chapters.
Through conducting interviews with INGOs and foreign CSOs that have established themselves in Taiwan, this study analyzes the present situation and challenges faced by foreigners when establishing social organizations. It focuses on areas such as employment, taxation, and social insurance in Taiwan. The goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the extent to which Taiwan's civic space is accessible to CSOs from Southeast Asia. Utilizing textual analysis, the study identifies notable inconsistencies between Taiwan's laws related to associations, human rights norms, and international human rights law. Notably, the 'Civil Associations Act' places restrictions on social organizations, limiting their registration to 'associations.' These restrictions encompass aspects such as household registration, the number and conditions of initiators, creating legal hurdles for association registration.
Drawing from existing research on the shrinking of civic space in Southeast Asia, this study conducts in-depth interviews with decision-makers from seven organizations in as many Southeast Asian countries. The primary aim is to comprehend the strategies and necessities pursued by these interviewees in sustaining their organizational activities within high-pressure environments.
Relocating organizations overseas can essentially be understood as a proactive measure, enabling them to manage risks and counteract threats. Our research finds that a mere categorization of relocations as acts of exile might fall short in truly grasping the motivations behind organizations' decisions to operate overseas.
The study does not attempt to make broad generalizations about the situation of CSOs in Southeast Asia solely based on the experiences of seven specific organizations. Instead, the study is aimed at comprehending the strategies and thought processes these organizations employ to deal with their unique situations. This understanding is crucial in identifying the key factors that influence the decisions of Southeast Asian CSOs to relocate.
Simultaneously, this approach empowers readers to gain insights into the nuanced perspectives of Southeast Asian CSOs regarding Taiwan as a potential 'alternate civic space'. This nuanced comprehension equips Taiwan to pragmatically assess its own conditions and contribute effectively to shaping its role within the region, particularly amidst the ongoing crisis revolving around the contraction of civic space.
As a political collective, ASEAN holds a diverse array of interests spanning security, economy, and sovereignty. This diversity often hinders the integration of a cohesive collective agenda. In the face of escalating tensions between the US and China, coupled with rapid shifts in geopolitics, maintaining equidistant diplomacy and hedging behavior becomes increasingly challenging for individual ASEAN member states. The repercussions of this evolving situation on civil society in Southeast Asia, as well as its impact on the delicate relationship between Taiwan and the regional civil society, demand our sustained attention. By fostering a deeper mutual understanding amidst these dynamics, Taiwan can gradually relinquish its ambiguous attitudes and step away from mere lofty ideal of democracy. This transition opens avenues for establishing pragmatic connections and fostering collaborations with its neighboring Southeast Asian countries.
Leah Lin, Executive Director & Founder
Asia Citizen Future Association
Leah, LIN Wenliang, Research Team Leader
Doris, YANG Liying, Researcher
Published by Asia Citizen Future Association (ACFA) in Taiwan
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