Monday, July 20, 2009

‘Push Burma on rights violations’

Monday, 20 July 2009 02:37

A COALITION of civil-society organizations on Burma called on the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meeting in Phuket, Thailand, to push for a stronger mechanism for the terms of reference (TOR) of the Asean Human Rights Body.

The Task Force on Asean and Burma (TFAB), a coalition of 69 civil-society groups working on democratization in Burma, said an effective and credible Asean Human Rights Body will help improve the lingering rights atrocities in Burma, particularly the continued detention of prodemocracy and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

“We are concerned that the TOR [of the Asean Human Rights Body] misses the essential mechanisms to protect human rights and to perform its duty independently,” said TFAB in an open letter sent to the delegates of the 42nd Asean Foreign Ministers meeting in Phuket.

TFAB coordinator Aung Myo Min said the TOR should “envisage an independent, effective and credible Asean human-rights body that will work to ensure that all member-states in Asean act upon their obligation to protect, promote and fulfill all human rights in line with international norms and standards.”

He said, “A mere window-dressing body will only further confirm the lack of Asean’s political will as a regional bloc to protect the rights of the people in the region.”

The open letter also urged a serious resolution to the continued sham trial of Burma’s Nobel peace icon Suu Kyi, who is being tried at Insein prison for breach of terms of detention after an unknown American swam into her prison area.

The terms of reference of the Asean human-rights body had first included a provision on “sanctions and expulsions” against an Asean-member nation that commits rights atrocities against its people.

But the foreign ministers of the regional bloc, governed by a policy of “constructive engagement and noninterference” in the last 40 years, stripped off the provision on “sanctions and expulsions.”

Instead, the decision on a particular member violating the terms of reference will now be left to the Asean heads of states to decide.

The coalition said in the past 10 years, Burma’s military regime has destroyed over 3,200 villages in eastern Burma.

It added that an upsurge of attacks in the past month, which aims to annihilate Karen opposition before the 2010 elections, has caused more than 6,400 people to flee to safety along the Thai-Burma border—the latest wave of ethnic refugees fleeing from the Burmese military’s atrocities.
The TOR is expected to be adopted at the 42nd Asean foreign ministers meeting in Phuket in time for the formal launch of the Asean Human Rights Body in the Asean Summit in October 2009.

The open letter also called on Asean Foreign Ministers to employ a Charter provision which states: “In the case of serious breach of the Charter or noncompliance, the matter shall be referred to the Asean Summit for decision.”

“At this critical time, Asean cannot afford to be weak on human rights. Asean leaders must take more firm measures and not let Burma slide by on false promises. Otherwise, it risks losing its credibility to the international community,” said the coalition.

Besides the Philippines and Burma, Asean also groups Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore. E. Torres

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