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Regime Unwilling to Meet Key Benchmarks for ASEAN Chairmanship

By Burma Partnership  •  October 24, 2011

This week, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa will be travelling to Burma to assess whether the country is ready to assume the chairmanship of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Civil society groups, including the Task Force on ASEAN and Burma (TFAB) and Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA), have expressed their concerns that awarding Burma this position will remove the incentive for the regime to improve the political and human rights situation in the country. In their open letters to the Indonesian government, both networks included a list of key benchmarks that Burma’s regime must meet before they assume the ASEAN chairmanship, which Mr. Natalegawa can use as indicators on his assessment mission to the country. These benchmarks include:

  • The immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners;
  • The declaration of a nationwide ceasefire and cessation of attacks on ethnic communities;
  • An announcement of a concrete plan and timeline for national reconciliation that involves genuine and participatory dialogue with ethnic nationality representatives, including armed groups, and the pro-democracy movement, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy;
  • A review of all domestic laws with a view to guaranteeing respect for fundamental human rights, a functioning democracy with adequate checks and balances and separation of powers; and,
  • Concrete steps to ensure that Burma’s newly-formed National Human Rights Commission is properly constituted, sufficiently empowered and resourced, and is truly independent in full compliance with the Paris Principles.

There was further evidence this week that the regime is not yet willing to meet these benchmarks, showing yet again that they are not sincerely interested in democratic progress in Burma.

Armed conflict continued in Kachin State between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army, including the shocking news of an attack on a Catholic church in Nam San Yang village. On 16 October, Burma Army soldiers opened fire in the church and burned down homes. Soldiers beat up or tortured villagers, killing some and arresting Pastor Jan Ma Aung Li and four other men. A number of women were also raped, including a 19-year old girl who was subsequently killed.

An estimated 1,700 political prisoners continue to be detained in very poor conditions throughout the country, including Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation Students group. His 49th birthday was celebrated this week in Rangoon, attended by about 2,000 people including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, other NLD leaders, and recently released political prisoners, Zaganar and Su Su Nway. Min Ko Naing’s family expressed worries about his well-being in prison as he suffers from hypertension and another heart ailment. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP) issued an urgent appeal for another political prisoner, Nay Myo Zin, to receive external hospitalization after he has been denied critical medical care in prison. The former army captain turned charity worker is currently suffering from a broken hip and rib sustained from physical torture during interrogation since his arrest in May. AAPP says that there are at least 122 political prisoners, such as Min Ko Naing and Nay Myo Zin, who continue to suffer from poor health and lack of adequate medical care in Burma’s prisons.

Also this week, news emerged that Malaysia and Burma were negotiating an exchange of immigration detainees, including refugees and asylum seekers. Local civil society in Malaysia expressed concern that if returned to Burma, these detainees who are predominantly from persecuted ethnic and religious minorities would be at risk of further discrimination and human rights violations such as forced labor, confiscation of land and homes, systematic rape, and torture, from which they had fled.

As long as problems such as these persist, Burma will not achieve acclaim from the international community, even if it is awarded the ASEAN chairmanship. Real international commendation will only come when the regime makes concerted and genuine steps towards democratic transition, lasting peace and the protection of human rights of all the citizens of Burma.

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