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AIPMC Welcomes Cambodia as ASEAN Chair but Urges Rapid Reforms on Human Rights and Democracy

By ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus  •  January 10, 2012

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus today welcomed Cambodia’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but made clear it wanted to see increased focus and improvement in the protection of human rights and the strengthening of democratic institutions in Myanmar and across the region.

“Chairing ASEAN is always a tremendous honour and responsibility, but particularly so now, as we find ourselves at a crossroads in our region’s history. We need to ensure that we launch as a single community in 2015 as an integrated collective of nations, united under the banners of justice, democracy and a respect for individual political and human rights. This is Cambodia and ASEAN’s mantle,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, Indonesian Member of Parliament and President of AIPMC.

Cambodia assumes the rotating chair of ASEAN for the year 2012, which will be a key year for ensuring lip service towards democratic reforms and human rights protections are translated into tangible actions. Significant changes have been taking place in Myanmar which have led to a shift in approach towards the once pariah state by the international community. The Cambodian government should view these changes as an opportunity to ensure ASEAN offers assistance to and works with all relevant actors within Myanmar to ensure recent reforms are translated into a genuine and lasting transition towards a truly open and democratic Myanmar. ASEAN should consider setting up specific bodies and committees to oversee this process and maintain consistent pressure on the Myanmar government to ensure it fulfils its promises.

“ASEAN needs to take a greater role in supporting actors for change within individual nations and ensuring that democracy and human rights are firmly established as rights and norms across the region,” said Sundari. “It must help civil society actors play a greater role in the democratisation of their own country, often in the face of considerable threats and obstacles, whilst also pushing for those things that we failed to achieve under the Indonesian chairmanship, including the release of all political prisoners in Myanmar and ensuring that the Myanmar government pursues a genuine and transparent roadmap to peace with armed ethnic rebel groups there.”

As Cambodia leads the region towards a single community in 2015, ASEAN’s commitment to democracy and human rights as stipulated in its Charter must be adapted into functioning and effective instruments for change that are backed up by legitimate authority. For this to be successful it is vital that Cambodia works toward strengthening democracy and human rights within its own borders. Indonesia, as a former military-backed dictatorship that successfully transitioned to a democracy, served as a useful role model for Myanmar. Cambodia must now take on that mantle. Cambodia must ensure greater freedom of expression and support the role of civil society in decision-making processes at the national as well as regional level.

“In Cambodia, the military has been used by the rich and the powerful to rob people of their lands, leaving hundreds of thousands landless. In reality, the ruling party works against the interests of its own people and subverts the democratic institutions of the state. Cambodia is an expert at playing the international community by promoting a façade of democracy,” said Son Chhay, opposition member of Parliament in Cambodia and Vice-President of the AIPMC.

“Some still wonder if the ruling party in Myanmar is genuine with its reform or whether they are only playing a game with the international community by adopting the manipulated democracy technique from Cambodia. Cambodia must take this opportunity to impress the world of its commitment and capability for rapid change toward democracy and ensuring human rights are protected,” Son Chhay added.

Other areas of concern remain peace and security in the Mekong Delta. Cambodia must permit ASEAN to act as a mediator in the ongoing border dispute with Thailand surrounding the Preah Vihear Temple complex. Cambodia should also take the opportunity as chairman to work towards solving the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar through increasing protection for refugees from Myanmar, including the many that live along the Thai-Myanmar border, by encouraging the cooperation between the United Nations and ASEAN in humanitarian assistance and by placing the repatriation issue on the ASEAN agenda, with particular consideration placed on how to guarantee the security of any current exiles or refugees who may decide to return home.

For more information/ interview with AIPMC MPs, please contact: Agung Putri Astrid +62 81514006416

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This post is in: Press Release

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