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Statement on ASEAN’s Decision to Grant Burma the Chair in 2014

November 22, 2011

We call for ASEAN to keep its options open on reversing its decision on Burma’s chairing the regional bloc if the military-led government back-slides on promises concerning human rights and democracy.

The decision made last week to grant Burma the 2014 chair is premature as the authorities have failed to fulfil key promises of reform. The decision might even embolden them to continue committing human rights abuses with total impunity.

We are extremely disappointed that ASEAN did not use the unique opportunity it had to influence the Thein Sein’s government to take meaningful steps towards democratic transition, peace, and national reconciliation.  ASEAN’s decision to deliberately ignore the new war in Kachin state and escalation of military attacks in eastern Burma this year, is a betrayal of its international and regional obligations to the wellbeing of ASEAN citizens.

We consider ASEAN’s decision to be an indication of the bloc’s de facto acceptance of the regime’s continued violations of human rights, which include rape of women and girls, extrajudicial killings, torture, forced displacement, and forced labour, without any accountability for the perpetrators or justice for the victims.

ASEAN’s founding Bangkok Declaration commits member states “to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law […] and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter.”

Instead of promoting regional peace, Burma’s military-led government threatens regional stability.

Human rights violations and atrocities in Northeastern Burma have significantly increased since President Thein Sein came to power. Between August 2010 and July 2011, Thein Sein’s government forced at least 112,000 people, the highest estimate in a decade, to flee their homes in Eastern Burma. In addition, over 20,000 fled their homes as a result of the Burma Army offensives in Kachin State and Northern Shan State. Civilians continued to flee Burma, with the number of refugees living in refugee camps in Thailand increasing from 145,713 to 148,908 during the same period.

The economic mismanagement of the country continues with deeply entrenched corruption, a manipulated exchange rate and runaway inflation, making the population more vulnerable to transnational crime and trafficking within ASEAN’s region.

Narcotics production and trafficking continues to run rampant throughout Burma, with the regime actively supporting the illicit industry. Burma is the second largest producer of opium in the world. In some areas of Shan State under the control of the military-led government, the opium cultivation has increased by 78.58% within the last two years creating a greater threat to the security of neighbouring states.

Since taking office in March, Thein Sein’s government has embarked on a series of largely cosmetic changes aimed at gaining international legitimacy and winning over ASEAN member states.

We are saddened that ASEAN interpreted the minor concessions made by Thein Sein to be genuine, when a few days before ASEAN’s decision, the regime’s Information Minister, Kyaw Hsan, denied the existence of political prisoners in Burma and that violations of human rights in ethnic nationalities’ areas ever occurred. In addition, the regime still hasn’t released over 1,600 political prisoners, despite its promises to do so. The Parliament refuses to repeal oppressive laws that facilitated the imprisonment of several thousand political prisoners and adopted new restrictive laws that disenfranchise many activists convicted in the past.

ASEAN must be prepared to face the national and regional consequences of its premature decision, including increased displacement, undocumented migration and drug production that results from its ill-timed decision to grant Burma the 2014 chair. A public statement from ASEAN that it is prepared to review its decision if there is no significant improvement towards democratic transition, peace, and national reconciliation is urgently needed to ensure that the military-led government does not regard the 2014 chair as a blank cheque to continue abusing its people.

Signed by:

Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma
All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress (AASYC)
All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
Arakan Human Rights and Development Organization (ADHRO)
Arakan Rivers Network (ARN)
Asian Centre for Human Rights
Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia)
Asian Indigenous Women’s Network
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)
Asylum Access Thailand
Boat People SOS (BPSOS)
Burma Centre Delhi
Burma Partnership
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)-Asia
Children Human Rights Foundation of Indonesia
Chin National Community Japan
Community Action Network – ICMICA Malaysia
Dignity International
Focus on the Global South
Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB)
Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)
Highland Peoples Task-Force
Human Rights Defenders-Pilipinas
Human Right Education Institute of Burma (HREIB)
Human Security Alliance
Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation
Indonesian’s Women Coalition for Justice and Democracy
INHURED International
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Lawyers for Liberty
Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI)
Maukkh Education Magazine and public house
Migrant CARE
Migrant Forum Asia
National Commission for Justice and Peace
National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR) exile
OKUP – Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (Bangladesh)
Poonga – Tamil Community Education
Positive Change for Cambodia
Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee (RARC)
Rohingya Youth Development Forum (RYDF)
SAPA Working Group on ASEAN
South East Asian Committee for Advocacy (SEACA)
South Asia Forum for Human Rights
Southeast Asia Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (SEASUCS)
Student and Youth Congress of Burma (SYCB)
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization (TSYO)
Taiwan Association for Human Rights
Taiwan Free Burma Network
Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education)
Thai Committee for Refugees Foundation
The Fahamu Refugee Programme
The National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)
Women’s League of Burma
Worker Hub For Change (WH4C)
Youth Action Nepal

Anoop Sukumaran
Aung Marm Oo
Aurora Regalado
Bhuwan Adhikari
Harrison Cheng
Jose Maria Dimaandal
Nyi Nyi Aung
Purnomo S. Pringgodigdo
Sammy Gamboa
Sumitha Kishna
Wa Wa Kyaw
William Nicholas Gomes

For more information, please contact:

Khin Ohmar, Coordinator of Burma Partnership: +66818840772 or khinohmar@burmapartnership.org

Debbie Stothard, Coordinator of Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma): +66816861652 or debbie@altsean.org

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This post is in: Press Release

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