Pro-democracy Burmese and their sympathizers have expressed their resentments for Burma’s elevation as the ‘would be chair’ of the Association of South East Asian Nations. Terming the recent initiative of ASEAN to grant Burma the 2014 Chair as ‘premature as the authorities have failed to fulfill key promises of reform’, a number of organizations argued that the ‘decision might even embolden them (Burmese government) to continue committing human rights abuses with total impunity’.
“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,” revealed in a statement issued by these organizations. They also asserted that 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 well-being of ASEAN citizens.
It may be mentioned that the southeast Asian leaders while meeting in Bali of Indonesia during 19th ASEAN Summit, agreed to allow Burma to assume the chairmanship and allow the country to host the annual meeting in 2014.
Soon after the election in November 2010, Burma has showcased some changes. As the military ruled country was put under a semi-democratic regime, the government had withdrawn the house arrest of opposition leader Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Thousands prisoners, some of them were active leaders and workers of National League for Democracy were also released from the jails.
Changing its image, the Burmese government wants the economic sanctions imposed by the USA and various European nations to be lifted. Recently the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also accepted an invitation from Burma to visit the country in near future. The USA President Barack Obama announced recently that their Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Burma in the coming days.
Even though, the ASEAN decision offering chair to Burma invited critical comments from various political observers as they argued that the country should have been offered the opportunity only after Nay Pyi Taw initiates significant democratic changes and improves its human rights record.
“The ASEAN leaders 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,” added the statement, which was signed by Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, Asian Centre for Human Rights, International Federation for Human Rights, South Asia Forum for Human Rights, All Student and Youth Congress of Burma, All Women’s Action Society, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Asian Indigenous Women’s Network, Burma Centre Delhi, Forum for Democracy in Burma, Human Right Education Institute of Burma, Student and Youth Congress of Burma, Women’s League of Burma etc.
“We are extremely disappointed that ASEAN did not use the unique opportunity it had to influence the former general Thein Sein’s government to take meaningful steps towards democratic transition, peace, and national reconciliation,” asserted the statement.
Human rights violations and atrocities in northeastern Burma have significantly increased since President Thein Sein came to power.
Between August 2010 and July 2011, the Burmese regime 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, disclosed in the statement.
Debbie Stothard, coordinator of Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma claims that narcotics production and trafficking continues to run rampant throughout Burma with active support of the regime.
“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, added Ms Debbie.
The Thein Sein’s government has recently embarked on a series of largely cosmetic changes with an aim to gain international legitimacy, but the ground reality remains almost the same. The government has recently few prisoners, but there over 1,600 political prisoners are still behind bars. The Burmese Information Minister Kyaw Hsan even denied of any political prisoners in Burma recently. Similarly, the Parliament refused 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.