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ASEAN Leaders Must Raise Issue of Ethnic Conflicts and Human Rights Violations in Myanmar at This Week’s Summit

By ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus  •  April 3, 2012

The ASEAN Inter Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), while noting allegations of irregularities and widespread electoral violations, today welcomed the results of the Myanmar by-elections held on 1 April 2012 but called on ASEAN to raise the issue of ongoing violence and conflict in Myanmar’s ethnic areas during the ASEAN Summit from April 3 – 4 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

“While the elections in Myanmar this Sunday can be seen as a step in the right direction, we must not forget that they have been overshadowed not only by widespread and well documented allegations of electoral improprieties, but also the continued violence and human rights abuses taking place in the ethnic areas,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, Indonesian MP and AIPMC President.

“We congratulate Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi on this historic day for her and her party and we stand by her in her continued efforts to bring human rights, justice and democracy to the people of Myanmar. But the hard work is still to come and we must not be distracted too long by this election. The serious issue of continued conflict and human rights abuses in the ethnic areas must be brought to the forefront, as the human toll of these conflicts continues to be too high for any of us to ignore.”

AIPMC calls on ASEAN to monitor closely the situation of human rights in Myanmar, in particular, the continued violent conflict in ethnic areas. UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, reiterated in his latest report in March that Myanmar’s legal institutions were not capable of investigating and bringing human rights cases to legal process. He also expressed concern over the breakdown of ceasefire agreements between government and armed ethnic groups and reports of allegations of serious human rights violations, including attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, internal displacement, land confiscations, the use of human shields, the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as forced labour and portering.

ASEAN must use the various institutions it has at its disposal to properly examine these allegations and consider what role it can play in helping to end the suffering in Myanmar and to ensure the country moves forward in its reform process in a manner that will ensure lasting peace.

AIPMC recognises and supports the reforms undertaken by the Myanmar government to date, but maintains that key minimum benchmarks remain unsatisfied. ASEAN and the international community should continue to monitor the situation inside the country and exercise its leverage over the government of Myanmar to address ongoing violence against ethnic nationalities and to ensure it does not backpedal on its commitments.

ASEAN should also impress upon the government of Myanmar the importance of moving swiftly towards enacting genuine political, legal and socioeconomic reforms that are necessary to guarantee the rule of law and that will underpin the future reform process.

“It is still unclear whether this government sees itself as a transitional government or the real representatives of the people of Burma. We must not hold back until real and substantive reforms have been enacted and the army is neutralised as a political force,” said Son Chhay, Cambodian MP and AIPMC Vice President.

“We can take a moment to celebrate the election victory for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who continues to be an inspiration to us all, but the hard work for her and her country is still to come. And it is our responsibility as fellow members of the ASEAN community to stand by her and the Burmese people as they continue to strive for genuine change in their country. We will continue to impress upon our parliaments how important this issue is.”

Many Burmese may be celebrating today but many others remain disenfranchised, in poverty, and at threat of abuses from the Myanmar military and state. Tens of thousands of people remain internally displaced, and hundreds of thousands more are living in refugee camps outside of the country. Of particular concern is the plight of the Rohingya population, who are continually persecuted at home and abroad, and the ongoing conflict in Kachin state, where reports of serious human rights abuses continue.

While Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy Party have done a valiant job, their small percentage of seats in Parliament leaves them with little constitutional power. They, along with reformers in the government, will need the continued support and backing of the international community and ASEAN to ensure that Myanmar’s transition to democracy will be both enduring and peaceful.

“As we have seen across the region, we cannot always rely on individuals, no matter how well meaning they may seem. We have to have the laws that protect us, as people can be changed and turned by power. When you change to a new political system, there will necessarily be many legal loopholes, and these holes must be plugged as quickly as possible. You must strengthen the systems and you have to neutralise the power of the army,” said Son Chhay.

Sunday’s elections were far from ideal. The government of Myanmar must ensure that outside election monitors, including those from ASEAN, be given total access to any future elections. Throughout the run-up to Sunday’s election there have been widespread reports of irregularities and serious electoral violations and improprieties, including vote-buying and repeated obstruction of the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) campaign through acts of violence and intimidation against NLD members. Furthermore, the Election Commission has failed in its duty to act as an impartial, effective, and independent body. Allegations of electoral fraud, irregularities, and campaign restrictions have been left largely unaddressed, which has brought the neutrality of the commission, hand picked by the ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), into considerable doubt.

Underscoring the call of ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, AIPMC also calls on ASEAN leaders in the coming Summit in Phnom Penh to place into their agenda optimum efforts to encourage the political transition in Myanmar with respect to human rights. ASEAN should continue with constructive engagement with the government, the opposition and the ethnic groups.

ASEAN should pressure the government of Myanmar to move swiftly towards conducting a comprehensive and transparent review of the 2008 Constitution and all national legislation. This review should be fully participatory, involving political opposition, civil society, and ethnic nationalities, and be carried out with the aim of amending, repealing or replacing laws that are inconsistent with international human rights and democratic standards.

The government of Myanmar should also ratify or accede to additional international instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention against Torture (CAT), and the Rome Statute. Provisions laid out in these instruments should be incorporated into domestic laws.

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The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) is a network formed in an inaugural meeting in Kuala Lumpur, on 26-28 November 2004 by and for Parliamentarians from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. The aim is advocating for human rights and democratic reform in Myanmar/Burma. Its members represent both the ruling and non-ruling political parties of countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Cambodia.

Eva Sundari , MP (Indonesia) President
Charles Chong, MP (Singapore) Vice-President
Kraisak Choonhavan (Thailand) Vice President
Lorenzo Tanada, MP (The Philippines) Vice President
Lim Kit Siang, MP (Malaysia) Vice President
Son Chhay, MP (Cambodia) Vice-President
Teresa Kok, MP (Malaysia) Secretary

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This post is in: ASEAN, Press Release

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