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Letter: Myanmar should not chair ASEAN

By ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus  • 

Originally appeared in The Jakarta Post

July 26, 2011

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) deeply regrets a statement made by Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia’s representative to ASEAN’s Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), as reported by The Jakarta Post on July 19: “ … giving Myanmar a chance [to chair ASEAN] could encourage the country to show ASEAN and the world that it is committed to improving its national situation.”

The statement was made exactly at a time when the public was provided with the blatant facts regarding the Myanmar government: given its failure to prevent violence and attacks against civilians during clashes between the government’s army and ethnic armed groups of Karen, Shan and Kachin earlier this month. The AIPMC has followed reports by Shan women’s organizations, and many others, regarding gang rapes and sexual violence allegedly carried out against Shan and Kachin women during July 2011.

From the time Myanmar requested ASEAN membership in 1997, and the position of chair in 2006, it has continually given the same assurances to ASEAN to improve human rights in its country. Myanmar’s admission to ASEAN in 1997 was finally made in consideration of the need “to give a chance” to Myanmar to improve its human rights situation.

However, facts such as the systematic and downward-spiralling human rights violations, including killings, arbitrary arrests, forced labor and land acquisitions, with the explicit involvement of state apparatus; the 1,000 or so political prisoners still being detained; intimidation toward opposition, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have not decreased since Myanmar’s entry into ASEAN. Indeed, they have been well reported by UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Thomas Ojea Quintana, as recently as 2010. Thus, the failure of the Myanmar government to prevent  human rights violations is not due to not being given a chance. Despite its membership of ASEAN, there has been no substantial improvement or change for the people of Myanmar

The thought of “the need to give a chance” to Myanmar has not only proven a failure but is also against Indonesia’s mandate as commissioner of the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). AICHR should give all its strength to developing a human rights strategy and encourage all ASEAN member states to accede to international human rights instruments. There is no place for a human rights institution such as the AICHR if it only functions as the rubber stamp of a government, particularly given the situation in Myanmar, where the existing authority of its government has created a dangerous environment for its people and a deterioration of their fundamental rights.

Indonesia’s representative to the AICHR should work to encourage the Myanmar government to enforce its authority at the highest level with the political legitimacy of the election in order to protect the people, stop the conflict and look for a peaceful solution.

To reiterate from our last statement, released on July 22, 2011, we urge the AICHR to take an active role in monitoring the current situation at the border, and in verifying reports from civil organizations regarding allegations of rape and sexual abuse against ethnic Shan and Kachin women.

Eva Kusuma Sundari
President
The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus
Jakarta

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This post is in: ASEAN

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