In this webinar, Dr Hanim Kamaruddin from Faculty of Law in UKM examines the issue of the transboundary haze pollution in Southeast Asia through the lenses of international law and offers a Malaysian perspective to the problem.
ASEAN STUDIES CENTRE WEBINAR
Tuesday, 22 September 2020 – The ASEAN Studies Centre (ASC) at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised a webinar titled “Between State Responsibility and ASEAN principles: A Perspective from Malaysia on Resolving Transboundary Haze Pollution.” The webinar was delivered by Dr. Hanim Kamaruddin, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Dean (Academic Affairs) from the Faculty of Law at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). Ms Sharon Seah, (Coordinator, ASEAN Studies Centre) moderated the session.
Dr. Hanim Kamaruddin began the session by pointing to the causes of the haze problem, attributing it to the practices of Indonesian small-holder farmers and the lack of enforcement by the Indonesian authorities. Highlighting that the transboundary haze pollution remained a persistent hazard in this region and that neighbouring countries continued to bear huge economic, social, and environmental costs, she noted that these problems may be further intensified given the COVID-19 situation where attention and mitigation efforts are shifted away from peatlands towards virus containment.
Dr. Kamaruddin then took stock of the agreements and initiatives undertaken by ASEAN since 1992. Citing the media statement from the 15th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Environment held in 2019, Dr. Kamaruddin noted that transboundary haze pollution remained high on ASEAN’s agenda with its members expressing concerns and sympathy over the severity of the haze problem. Notably, ASEAN cooperation has led to the establishment of the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) and the 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP). A review of the AATHP in 2019 led to a decision to establish the ASEAN Coordinating Centre under the AATHP and implementation of a 2016 Roadmap for a haze-free ASEAN by 2020.
Dr. Kamaruddin highlighted the inherent conflict between the law of state responsibility and the ASEAN way where the principles of non-interference may hinder cooperation to mitigate transboundary haze pollution. International law on state responsibility deems that any internationally wrongful act, whether by deliberate act or omission, is a breach of a state’s responsibility and may give rise to liability. Applying the law of state responsibility, affected countries can hold Indonesia culpable but, thus far, none have done so. Since 1997, all countries have taken the stance of using diplomacy and cooperation to jointly manage the haze situation. She attributed this to the ASEAN way where ASEAN maintains utmost respect for state sovereignty so as to uphold peace in the region.
On Malaysia’s position on transboundary haze pollution, Dr. Kamaruddin opined that Malaysia has always been actively solving the haze problem. This included a proposal by the previous government to enact a new law to provide an avenue for legal action in Malaysia. However, the proposed Act has now been shelved by the new government who has expressed a preference to return to bilateral cooperation instead. Citing the problems of evidence-gathering that Singapore has faced since passing its Transboundary Haze Pollution Act in 2014, Dr Kamaruddin noted that Malaysia feared the same consequences as Indonesia’s cooperation is required in providing evidentiary proof for prosecution.
Dr. Kamaruddin suggested that one way forward for ASEAN to solve transboundary haze pollution is for its member states to enact reciprocal legislation to facilitate greater transparency in data sharing across the region. She noted that the haze problem was not constrained to any particular country and that the ultimate goal should be to protect the environment for all ASEAN citizens. Another way is to expand the work of the ASMC to include monitoring of other types of transboundary pollution. She also cited the need for ASEAN to continue to educate civil societies and consumers on combatting the persistent problem of haze.
The session ended with a Q&A segment including questions on climate change; ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) blueprint and mitigation of the issue; progress of the One Map initiative in Indonesia; and the role of public/citizens.