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ASEAN Must Address Burma’s Armed Conflict and Human Rights Violations at Upcoming Meetings

By Burma Partnership  •  July 18, 2011

Prior to the upcoming 44th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) and 18th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Burma Partnership has highlighted the continued deterioration of human rights under the military regime and the urgent need for ASEAN to take concrete action against such violations of basic human rights standards and principles included in the ASEAN Charter.

Despite the regime’s claims of a new peaceful democratic order in Burma, opposition politicians remain sidelined and little has changed for the 1,994 political prisoners that remain behind bars. Moreover, ongoing military offensives against ethnic armed groups in Eastern Burma have lead to tens of thousands of displaced civilians, many of whom have faced mounting human rights abuses, including rape, extrajudicial killings, and forced labor. The situation has resulted in refugees fleeing to neighboring Thailand and China, presenting a threat to regional stability.

Local human rights documentation groups have recorded grave instances of human rights violations in Kachin State where the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army are currently in a standoff, including the gang rape of eighteen women, and subsequent murder of four by Burma Army troops. New documentation by the Shan Women’s Action Network and the Shan Human Rights Foundation of the rape of three women and one girl in Shan State, one of whom was nine months pregnant, is indicative of the impunity granted to regime troops. These abuses took place in Ke See township in Northern Shan State, 15 miles from the Shan State Army – North headquarters, which has been besieged by more than 3,000 Burma Army troops for over four months. The ongoing nature of these human rights violations and the lack of a domestic legal system capable of delivering justice highlight the urgent need for a United Nations Commission of Inquiry.

Such instances of sexual violence directly contravene principles laid out in the ASEAN Charter as well as those of the ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). Article 2.2, section (i) of the ASEAN Charter includes “respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and the promotion of social justice,” and article 3.2 of the Terms of Reference of the ACWC states a “respect for human rights principles, including universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all fundamental freedoms and the rights of women and children, the guiding principles of CEDAW and CRC.”

Moreover, in 2004, foreign ministers and senior officials from all ASEAN countries gathered in Indonesia to sign the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the ASEAN Region. Article 2 of this declaration firmly laid out the need for every member state to:

“Enact and, where necessary, reinforce or amend domestic legislation to prevent violence against women, to enhance the protection, healing, recovery and reintegration of victims/survivors, including measures to investigate, prosecute, punish and where appropriate rehabilitate perpetrators, and prevent re-victimisation of women and girls subjected to any form of violence, whether in the home, the workplace, the community or society or in custody.”

To date, the military regime in Burma has failed to put into action their stated commitment to eliminating violence against women, and have further been implicated in and have tacitly condoned the practice of sexual violence against ethnic women. Continued armed conflict, widespread human rights violations that go against fundamental principles agreed upon by ASEAN members, and continued domination of the political arena by military elites have demonstrated the grave lack of change in Burma since the elections.

Despite this, the regime had the audacity to request the ASEAN chairmanship in 2014. As evidenced in the lack of change in the past 9 months, Burma’s military regime is no better placed to chair the regional bloc than it was prior to the elections. Granting this financially and politically irresponsible regime the chairmanship a year before the goal of an ASEAN Community by 2015 will not only guarantee the failure of the vision of such positive integration, but will also undermine ASEAN’s credibility as a regional body.

Burma must demonstrate the ability and the commitment to serve as a people-centered chair of the regional bloc prior to being granted the chairmanship. ASEAN should not allow Burma to become the chair in 2014 unless the regime takes concrete steps to prove that they intend to carry out genuine democratic transition and national reconciliation by meeting the following necessary benchmarks:

  1. Immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners
  2. Declaration of a nationwide ceasefire with ethnic armies and cessation of attacks on ethnic communities; and,
  3. Genuine tripartite dialogue with ethnic nationality representatives, including armed groups, and the pro-democracy movement, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, as well as guarantees on the personal security of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

These benchmarks were outlined in the latest Burma Partnership briefer. The briefer also called on ASEAN to support the establishment of an UN-led Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma, and provide urgently-needed protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced communities from Burma in ASEAN member countries.

Set to take place from 19 – 23 July, the upcoming ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and ASEAN Regional Forum are key opportunities for ASEAN to respond to their most unruly member and take steps to implement the above recommendations. With ASEAN’s vision of a politically and economically integrated regional community set to be completed by 2015, granting Burma the ASEAN chairmanship in 2014 will undermine the process of integration and regional political stability, as well as the credibility of the bloc. ASEAN must take decisive action to address the deteriorating political, security and human rights situation in Burma.

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