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19 – 25 July: ASEAN Foreign Ministers Criticize but Fail to Act on Burma

By Burma Partnership  •  July 26, 2010

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met earlier this week for the 43rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting to discuss various regional issues, including Burma’s upcoming elections. In contrast to the statements of support for the elections that emerged from the bloc’s 16th summit earlier this year, this ministerial meeting saw foreign ministers expressing more apprehension than support. “Myanmar, I think, got an earful last night,” said Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN Chairman, “ASEAN is very much concerned.”

There appears to be a growing realization within the bloc of the problematic nature of the junta’s election and the grossly unfair political playing field. In the last week, there has been increasing attention to the mistreatment of migrants sent back to Burma from Thailand at the hands of the pro-junta militia, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). According to the Karen National Union, attacks by SPDC and DKBA combined forces in July have led to hundreds of villagers displaced in Karen State and ongoing human rights violations. ASEAN can no longer ignore that Burma’s refugee, migrant, and human rights problems are spilling out into Thailand and the region.

However, ASEAN’s official statement following the meeting reflected classic ASEAN-style diplomacy: “We underscored the importance of national reconciliation in Myanmar and the holding of the general election in a free, fair, and inclusive manner, thus contributing to Myanmar’s stability and development. We also stressed the need for Myanmar to continue to work with ASEAN and the United Nations in this process.” The statement lacked any mention of Burma’s 2,100 political prisoners, the regime’s electioneering efforts and flawed election laws, as well as the questionable formation of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). It also failed to lay out any concrete steps that would be taken to address the particularly undemocratic lead up to Burma’s 2010 elections.

Indeed, some foreign minister noted the undemocratic nature of the regime’s formation of the USDP, but still maintained that the elections would prove a step forward for the region. “Once the generals take off the uniforms and they’ve got to win votes and kiss babies, and attend to local needs, the behaviour will change, the economy will gradually open up and this will be an important change in Myanmar,” claimed Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo.

ASEAN ministers later met with officials from China, South Korean and Japan, and similarly called on Burma to ensure free and fair elections but also noticeably lacked any “concrete measures to put pressures on Myanmar,” as noted by the meeting’s spokesman Tran Ngoc An.

Further absent were any resolute actions or statements addressing Burma’s growing nuclear weapon program. US Secretary of State Clinton voiced her concerns during the region’s security forum, but Yeo merely highlighted that “[Burma’s] foreign minister has told us categorically that they don’t have a nuclear weapons program” while Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa stated that the allegations were simply a “manifestation of the lack of information about what’s happening in the country” and supported greater “transparency”. Natalegawa did however note that ASEAN could send inspectors to Burma under the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone treaty (SEANWFZ), but did not indicate whether ASEAN was considering taking such actions.

ASEAN has historically failed to follow up on statements on Burma with concrete actions. But it is not as if the bloc is without options.

The Task Force on ASEAN and Burma, a network of civil society groups from Burma, sent an open letter to ASEAN Coordinating Council prior to this week’s ASEAN meetings, urging the body to support a “commission of inquiry into serious international crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes,” to send an investigation to determine whether Burma has violated the SEANWFZ treaty, and to push for the unconditional release of all political prisoners.

ASEAN must follow up its concerns with concrete actions to address the behavior of its most unruly member in the lead up to the 2010 elections. Burma’s undemocratic process will not improve the grave social, economic and political problems that continue to oppress Burma’s citizens. Instead, the sham elections will undoubtedly damage ASEAN’s reputation and impede its efforts for greater regional integration by 2015.

News Highlights

Senior General Than Shwe begins controversial 5-day tour of India

Nuclear weapon program claims supported by commercial satellite photos

Inside Burma

SPDC’s Foreign Minister claims that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be free to run in upcoming elections once she is released form house arrest

Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is conducting its own census in an apparent effort to influence the result of the elections

New Buddhist organization formed to accommodate former USDA members

USDP pressures Shan State voters to vote for only for their party

Junta township councils in Chin State force local citizens to contribute money towards setting up election infrastructure

Education ministry threatens students to vote for junta-backed parties in upcoming elections

Union Democracy Party (UDP) accuses the USDP of violating election laws in attempting to recruit their party members

The Election Commission approves the registration of the junta-sponsored Unity and Democracy Party for Kachin State; USDP donates 50 million Kyat (US$52,814) to the party

Kachin State Progress Party leader complains that minister’s stance on party’s link to the Kachin Independence Organization is groundless

Foreign Minister Nyan Win plans to run for parliament in this year’s elections

Pro-election “think tank” Myanmar Egress meets with diplomats in Bangkok to ask for funding, raises concerns about their role in the elections

Burma’s censorship board closes a journal for two weeks for publishing an article on the constitution

Burma celebrates Martyr’s Day, the day that commemorates the assassination of General Aung San and eight other central political figures; 300 NLD members gather at U Tin Oo’s home while NLD youth laid a wreath at the Martyr’s Mausoleum

Junta’s censorship board tightens restrictions on reporting on the ceremonious day

Authorities ordered Buddhist monks to leave three monasteries near Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda with threats of legal action

NLD MP urges Canadian government to investigate Ivanhoe Mines for violating sanctions against Burma

DKBA Brigade 5 refuses to meet military general to discuss the Border Guard Force issue


ASEAN offers to send election observers to Burma

North Korean foreign minister to visit Burma from 29 July to 1 August

Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva’s postpones planned August visit to Burma

Thai Minister meets delegation from Burma to discuss the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border closure

Japan Foreign Minister urges regime to ensure Daw Aung Saw Suu Kyi’s participation in the upcoming elections


US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned the junta against cooperating with North Korea on a nuclear program and called on the SPDC to hold free and fair elections this year

US calls on India to urge Burma to change course

US Congress renews sanctions against Burma for another year

UK Minister of State for Foreign Affairs says the new British government will regard this year’s elections as illegitimate if the regime denies a role to thousands of political prisoners

EU and Russia seek further investigation into allegations that Burma possesses a nuclear weapon program

Latest from the Elections Campaign

Junta’s Handpicked Election Commission Issues Unjust Directive
By Burma Partnership


Rights groups criticize the Indian government for hosting Senior General Than Shwe


Obama’s failure in Burma
By Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro
Washington Post

Stifling Democracy in Burma, the Junta way
By Bidhayak Das
The Irrawaddy

Delhi risks finding itself on the wrong side of history
By Benedict Rogers
The Independent

The electoral curse of poor, divided countries
By Joseph Ball
Burma News International

Press releases and Statements

Indian Civil Society Groups Appeal to the Prime Minister of India to Pressure Burma’s General for Genuine Elections
By Burma Centre Delhi

Posters pasted in Budha Gaya against Gen. Than Shwe’s India visit
By Burma Centre Delhi

Burma: Military Party Guaranteed to Dominate Elections
By Human Rights Watch

Indian Parliamentarians Protest the Visit of Burma’ Senior General Than Shwe
By Indian Parliamentarians’ Forum for Democracy in Burma

Open Letter to Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India – The State visit of Than Shwe, a shame for the world’s largest democracy
By International Federation for Human Rights

Civil Society Network Calls on ASEAN to Take Serious Action Towards Burma’s Undemocratic Elections
By Task Force on ASEAN and Burma

Open Letter to ASEAN Coordinating Council
By Task Force on ASEAN and Burma

Burma sanctions extended by Senate and sails through to the White House
for Obama’s signature

By US Campaign for Burma

Senate Approves McConnell-Feinstein Resolution to Renew Import Sanctions against Burma’s Military Junta
By US Senator Dianne Feinstein

Senator McConnell Speech: Senate to Vote on Bill to Renew Sanctions Against the Burmese Government
By US Senator Mitch McConnell


Week 19: 2010 Election Watch (13-19 July)
By Altsean-Burma

Weekly Political Events Regarding the SPDC’s Election (025-2010) (in Burmese and in English)
By Network for Democracy and Development

Weekly Political Events Regarding the SPDC’s Election (026-2010) (in Burmese)
By Network for Democracy and Development

Political Defiance Committee Monthly News Commentary – July 2010
By Political Defiance Committee

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