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Letter to the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. R.M. Marty M. Natalegawa

By Task Force on ASEAN and Burma  •  October 18, 2011

His Excellency Dr. R.M. Marty M. Natalegawa
Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Republic of Indonesia
Jl. Pejambon No. 6 Jakarta 10110,Indonesia
Tel: (+62) 21 344 1508
Fax: (+62) 21 385 7316
E-mail: infomed@kemlu.go.id

Your Excellency,

We write today, on behalf of the Task Force on ASEAN and Burma (TFAB), in response to your 19 September statement that you would “be keen to listen and to hear the voice of civil society” on whether Burma should be granted the chairmanship of ASEAN. We thank you for this opportunity and would like to share with you our position. Our current view is that the decision on granting the chairmanship to Burma should be delayed to help ensure that Burma moves towards genuine democratic transition and peace with ethnic nationalities.

Over the course of the past several months Burma’s regime has been making minor changes as part of a public relations campaign aimed at convincing ASEAN that Burma is ready to take on the organization’s chairmanship. These changes have included organized meetings with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, inviting the UN Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana to visit the country, and, now that the decision about the chairmanship is getting closer, releasing 220 political prisoners.

However, these superficial changes are far from sufficient to demonstrate that the country has truly embarked on the road to democratic transition. While the regime touts its recent release of more than 6,000 prisoners, less than 5% of whom were political prisoners, nearly 1,800 political prisoners continue to languish behind bars. Additionally, the post-election period has seen increased instability and the escalation of armed conflict in Karen, Shan andKachinStates. The Burma Army continues to committing human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. Those human rights violations include rape, murder, torture, and forced labour, perpetrated without accountability for the perpetrators or justice for the victims.

ASEAN is currently in a unique position to influenceBurma’s regime and thus work towards putting an end to these violations. Because the regime is eager to become the chairman of ASEAN, it is highly susceptible to pressure from the regional group. If ASEAN delays its decision on granting Burma the chairmanship, it will be able to insist that the regime turn its words into concrete actions.

Moreover, if ASEAN successfully negotiates concrete steps inBurma’s “democratic transition” it will be viewed as a pivotal actor in this process. This will deliver not only a huge amount of prestige and legitimacy in the eyes of the international community but also, in the medium term, produce tangible benefits for member nations both economically and in terms of regional stability.

We would therefore recommend that ASEAN delay its decision on granting Burma the chairmanship and insist that before the regime is granted the chairmanship it must meet the following three benchmarks:

  • Immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners;
  • Declaration of a nationwide ceasefire with ethnic armed groups and cessation of attacks on ethnic communities;
  • Inclusive political dialogue with ethnic nationality representatives, including armed groups, and the pro-democracy movement, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD.

Thank you for your consideration of our concerns and recommendations.

The Task Force on ASEAN and Burma is a diverse, continuous, and supportive network of civil society actors from Burma working with regional organizations to promote a people-centered ASEAN that is supportive to the cause of democracy, human rights, and peace in Burma. We are at your disposal should you have any questions or should you wish to schedule a meeting to discuss this issue.

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This post is in: ASEAN, Press Release

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