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17-23 January: ASEAN Ignoring the Facts in Call to End Sanctions

January 24, 2011

On 16 January, ASEAN foreign ministers at a summit in Lombok, Indonesia, endorsed a reversal of Western sanctions against Burma’s military regime. This disappointing move demonstrates ASEAN’s continued failure to take a strong leadership role in promoting democracy and good governance, and advancing human rights in the region.

ASEAN foreign ministers claimed the November 2010 elections and release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest were “sure signs that the country is heading toward a more democratic system.”

According to ASEAN, these significant events warrant a positive response from the international community, including a reversal of sanctions. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa went so far as to suggest that ASEAN was “keen on playing a leading role in ensuring that the sanctions are lifted or at least eased.”

This misguided endorsement of the elections and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s release as a substantial step towards national reconciliation are wishful thinking at best, and total denial of the facts at worst.

Much of the international community condemned the SPDC’s authoritarian exercise to deny citizens a free and fair vote and install the old regime in a new, military dominated parliament. Through documented fraud and abuse, authorities engineered the unbelievable victory with 76% of contested seats going to the junta-allied Union Development and Solidarity Party. Suggesting this mockery of an election was anything approaching a step towards democracy is an insult to the millions of voters disenfranchised by SPDC and its allies.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from unjust house arrest indicates no interest on the part of the generals to advance the rule of law or pursue national reconciliation. With the latest arbitrary term of her house arrest coming to an end, the SPDC seized the opportunity to mute criticism of the elections and curry favor for the incoming military-dominated parliament. ASEAN has been all too happy to oblige. The SPDC since has not responded to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s repeated calls for dialogue.

ASEAN seems to have forgotten that Western nations instituted sanctions in response to SPDC abuses against the people of Burma and their fundamental human rights. Clear benchmarks for the lifting of many of these sanctions remain in place. Nothing about recent developments has given a strong indication that these abuses have ended, or are likely to end any time soon. More than 2,100 political prisoners still languish in Burma’s jails. Election related armed conflict in Eastern Burma has been ongoing since November and has resulted in the largest influx of new refugees from Burma into Thailand in the past two decades. There are still more than 8,000 people seeking refuge in Thailand. A new report released this week by Physicians for Human Rights on SPDC Army abuses in Chin State provides evidence of widespread human rights abuses that could amount to crimes against humanity.

The SPDC has yet to take any meaningful and irreversible steps towards democratization and national reconciliation. In the lead up to the first session of the military dominated parliament on 31 January, the SPDC has once again demonstrated it has no taste for transparent and open governance. Reported rules issued for parliamentary members include a strict dress code and bans on cameras, radios, computers, mobile phones, and recording devices, as well as restrictions on speeches that “endanger national security, the unity of the country or violate the Constitution.”

The NLD’s U Win Tin has noted statements such as ASEAN’s have no basis in fact; “Such calls are dishonest and those who made them are merely toeing the line of the military regime.”

Five ethnic nationality political parties that won seats in the November 2010 elections came out against sanctions the same day as ASEAN, with equally suspicious intent. Rampant and endemic corruption brings profits to those with connections to the regime, making potential gains for pro-military legislators clear. Less clear are the ultimate benefits to ordinary citizens.

In contrast, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD have shown flexibility and a desire to base sanctions policy on evidence and in collaboration with citizens. According to U Win Tin, “We have consistently supported the targeted sanctions against the regime leadership and its cronies, and we will continue to do so. But as we have said, we will review trade sanctions to find out if they are hurting the people.”

The regional body’s ongoing refusal to confront the regime exposes its weakness. ASEAN’s praise for deception and authoritarian governance only encourages the SPDC to continue with business as usual. However, business as usual in Burma hurts civilians, as well as ASEAN’s credibility. If ASEAN wants to be taken seriously as a regional institution, it must face facts on sanctions and challenge the SPDC to deliver real results.

News Highlights

NLD opposes military conscription law in statement

SPDC Senior General Than Shwe appoints 388 low-ranking military officers to parliament to fill 25% of seats reserved for military as per the 2008 Constitution

Inside Burma

National Democratic Force (NDF) party officials prepare to present a bill to parliament granting amnesty for Burma’s more than 2,200 political prisoners

NDF and the Democratic Party (Myanmar) join call to end sanctions

Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) loses electoral fraud lawsuit filed against Shan Nationalities Democratic Party

Authorities issue arrest warrant for NDF candidate who opposed forced relocation and land confiscation (Burmese)

Karen State Democracy and Development Party campaign staffer joins the Karen National Union, discloses that the party is fully controlled by the SPDC (Burmese)

SPDC authorities prepare operation to increase scrutiny of NGO finances
Censorship board establishes new body, the Committee for Professional Conduct (CPC)

SPDC Army continues to use heavy artillery fire against Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) as fighting intensifies in Karen State; children shot while fleeing fighting

Prisoner porters witness SPDC’s crimes against humanity during fighting in Karen State (Burmese)

Former child soldier sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment for desertion
Officials cull 1,000 chickens Sittwe, Arakan State, after bird flu is found

Authorities order about 100 shops to move without offering compensation in Rangoon (Burmese)

Villagers allege Yuzana Company use of chemicals responsible for buffalo deaths in Hukawng Valley, Kachin State

Irrawaddy suspends publication of print edition

Artists donate over USD $17,000 raised from live concerts to victims of Cyclone Nargis (Burmese)
Two imprisoned NLD members arrested during Cyclone Nargis disaster are released on 18 January (Burmese)


Authorities in Malaysia deport three migrant workers from Burma following a contractual dispute with employer; two others go missing
SPDC solders capture eight Thai villagers, release after forced portering (Burmese)

Tavoy Deep-sea port project plans to offer compensation (Burmese)


US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton calls Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, pledges to support “her efforts to strengthen civil society and democracy in Burma”

ILO welcomes proposed legislation to allow greater freedom for labor unions, remains concerned about the use of forced child labor

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This post is in: Weekly Highlights