Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is being urged to put a series of controversial human rights issues on the agenda when he meets with ASEAN leaders in Sydney this weekend.
Human rights campaigners want the prime minister to raise the anti-democratic crackdown in Cambodia, the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and restrictions on free speech in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore during the two-day summit.
Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch says failing to publicly raise the issues would deliver a propaganda coup to ASEAN leaders contemplating major crackdowns, jailing journalists or dismantling democratic institutions.
"The ASEAN summit shouldn't just be an opportunity to dance with dictators, but a chance to publicly press them over horrific human rights abuses across the region," said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch.
Mr Turnbull is due to host leaders from the 10 ASEAN member nations, apart from Philippines president President Rodrigo Duterte, at the special summit that kicks off in Sydney on Saturday.
Australia is not a member of ASEAN, but was given strategic partner status in 2014.
In a briefing paper about the summit released on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch outlined its concerns about a series of abuses in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The paper said many of those governments routinely commit serious human rights violations, crack down on civil society organisations and the media, or undermine democratic institutions by allowing corruption to flourish.
It criticised Myanmar for its military campaign of ethnic cleansing against Royhingya Muslims, and urges Mr Turnbull to tell defacto leader Aung San Suu Kyi that Australia will impose military sanctions if the atrocities aren't brought to an end.
The paper accuses the Philippines president of presiding over a "murderous war on drugs" that has seen thousands of users and small-time pushers killed in a campaign Mr Duterte launched after he took office in 2016.
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen is also singled out for banning the country's main opposition party, closing an independent newspaper and threatening protesters in Australia for speaking out against his anti-democratic crackdown ahead of a general election in July.
The Human Rights Watch briefing paper suggests Mr Turnbull, as head of the oldest democracy in the region, should offer assistance for leaders who want to make genuine reforms and encourage them to work with civil groups on building democratic institutions.
Australian Associated Press