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ASEAN Should Support and Promote a Credible and Transparent Process of Peace and Reconciliation in Myanmar and Mechanism of Human Rights Protection

By ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus  •  February 17, 2012

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) today welcomed the upcoming visit of ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan to Myanmar on 20 February but noted its continued and deep concern regarding the slow progress on the protection of human rights in Myanmar.

AIPMC views Dr. Surin’s visit as a key opportunity for ASEAN to ensure it engages with all political actors in Myanmar and fully exercises its role and duty to encourage and assist the government there to continue and improve on its transition towards full democracy.

The ASEAN secretary general’s visit comes at a time of hopeful change but also a time of continued concern. AIPMC would like to bring the following issues to the attention of Dr. Surin, and urges him and ASEAN to review its mandate and the options open to its various regional body’s and commissions in helping to address these concerns.

Violent conflict and human rights abuses persist in ethnic areas of Burma that are rich in natural resources and have become the target of aggressive investment for physical exploitation, such as in Kachin, Shan and Karen states. Despite the recent and welcome release of hundreds of prisoners of conscience, the Naypyidaw government has still failed to clarify the number, status and whereabouts of remaining political prisoners. There is also no transparency regarding the policy of releasing political prisoners and there is no guarantee that the government will relax restrictions as part of reforms of freedom of expression.

The government’s efforts to sign ceasefires with armed ethnic groups in an apparent first step towards national peace talks have so far failed to make any major inroads towards national reconciliation. In fact, on the contrary, the efforts have in some cases led to increased friction and distrust between the state and ethnic minority leaders, who have questioned the government’s true intentions.

Accountability for human rights violations in Myanmar remains extremely weak and impunity is inevitable. There is an urgent need to reform the judicial system. Issues of land rights, including widespread reports of forced and uncompensated evictions to make way for the development of mega projects, such as the proposed deep-sea port in Dawei, remains an area of major concern.

Despite these concerns, AIPMC considers Dr. Surin’s visit an important step in Myanmar’s transition to democracy. The visit of the secretary general is an opportunity for ASEAN to ‘re2 integrate’ Myanmar into the regional grouping. Since Myanmar was officially accepted as a member in 1996, ASEAN has been under constant pressure from civil society organizations and the international community regarding Myanmar’s human rights record. Myanmar has prevented ASEAN from developing into a credible and effective regional organisation, rather than merely a forum of countries of Southeast Asian nations. Myanmar has always been the thorn in ASEAN’s side. The external pressure and internal confusion ASEAN faced when deliberating whether to skip Myanmar’s turn to take the rotating chairmanship in 2006 marked how its rogue member has at times threatened ASEAN’s internal stability as well as its relationship with strategic global partners.

Regarding this, Dr. Surin on his visit should ensure that Myanmar is ready to lead ASEAN in 2014, to be the face of ASEAN to the world and seriously implement the ASEAN charter. Dr Surin should raise for discussion some critical problems that continue to prevent further reform in Myanmar, including: a lack of strong and stable democratic state institutions, including the
Parliament and national commissions, due to the vacuum of law, leadership and capacity; the government’s failure to fully engage in an inclusive and genuine roadmap for national peace and reconciliation (efforts to date have been insubstantial and have failed to contribute to any significant political change which guarantee the rights of ethnic groups or an end to the ongoing
conflicts); the threat posed by current economic policy to the environment, sustained economic growth in the future, as well as the political, civil and economic rights of ordinary people; and, the urgent need to reform the legal system to ensure the rule of law, as a current lack of any mechanism of accountability means impunity and cronyism remain issues of major concern.

Dr. Surin should impress upon the Naypyitaw government and all political actors in Myanmar the urgency of embarking on national peace and reconciliation efforts, as well as exploring with them possible roles ASEAN could play in that process. ASEAN should facilitate democracy in Myanmar further by supporting ucpoming by-elections there in April and opening up dialogue with the opposition, in particular with National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi. ASEAN’s communication with opposition members, if and when elected to Parliament, should be developed further to facilitate the ongoing transition in Myanmar. ASEAN should work further to ensure the protection of human rights with systematic efforts to prevent the reoccurrence of rights abuses with credible laws, institutions and apparatus. ASEAN should also promote mechanisms of repatriation for refugees and economic migrants through constructive cooperation among ASEAN countries. ASEAN should also seriously tackle the issue of human trafficking and increase efforts to abolish its practice in the region.

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This post is in: ASEAN, Press Release

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