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Groups seek Asean support for refugees

Originally appeared in Bangkok Post

March 29, 2010

Human rights advocates in Southeast Asia are calling on the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights to do more to protect the region’s refugees.

About 40 human rights organisations will forward a request today to the AICHR in Jakarta so that the issue can be taken up at its first meeting in Hanoi on April 8-9 on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.

The advocates agreed the first AICHR meeting in Vietnam should improve protection for the rights of refugees as the movement of people across borders had become one of the most important issues facing the region.

The issue was highlighted by the forced repatriation of Lao Hmong from Thailand’s Huay Nam Khao camp in Phetchabun last December, the treatment of the Rohingya boat people, and Burma’s continued suppression of its ethnic minority groups, especially the Karen.

Thailand is presently home to 368,800 refugees. The majority of refugees in Southeast Asia come from Burma, a member of the Asean grouping.

Cambodia and the Philippines are the only two Asean countries to have ratified the United Nations convention on the recognition of refugees.

Khin Ohnmar, the coordinator of Burma Partnership, a network of Burmese and regional civil society groups, said the worst human rights violations were taking place in Burma, where military officers were using rape “as a weapon of war” to get rid of hundreds of ethnic minority women. Some were gang raped, she said.

Over the past 13 years, 3,300 villages in Karen state in eastern Burma opposite Thailand have been burnt and destroyed by the Burmese army. The dispossessed have been forced to live in the jungle, flee to the Thai-Burmese border or cross into Thailand, she said.

“This is a very common situation inside Burma,” she said.

The families of Filipino journalists slaughtered in the Nov 23, 2009, massacre in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, are also seeking help from the AICHR.

Fifty-seven people were killed, including the family members of a politician, journalists, lawyers, aides and motorists who were witnesses or identified as part of the convoy, when they were ambushed by a gang believed to have been headed by a political rival. “They want the AICHR to intervene and press the Philippine government to ensure justice is given to the victims as well as to provide them with compensation,” said their lawyer, Harry Roque Jr.

“Justice must be done for all. That’s why I want the AICHR to help us,” said Noemi Parcon, the wife of slain journalist Joel Parcon.

“Our Philippine government has never shown any responsibility for what happened to us.”

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