Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Caucus calls for Asean to raise Burmese human rights issue

The Asean Inter Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), while noting allegations of irregularities and widespread electoral violations, on Tuesday welcomed the results of the Burmese by-elections held on 1 April, but called on Asean to raise the issue of ongoing violence and conflict in Burma’s ethnic areas during Asean Summit on Wednesday and Thursday in Phnom Penh.

“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,” she said. “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 called on Asean to monitor closely the situation of human rights, in particular, the continued violent conflict in ethnic areas. UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, reiterated in his latest report in March that the 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.

The caucus said it recognizes the reforms undertaken by the government to date, but maintains that key minimum benchmarks remain unsatisfied.

“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 neutralized 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,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people remain internally displaced, and hundreds of thousands more are living in refugee camps outside of the country, it said. 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, the group said.

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, said the group.  “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,” it said.

“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 neutralize the power of the army.”

AIPMC also called on Asean leaders to pressure the government of Burma to move swiftly towards conducting a comprehensive and transparent review of the 2008 Constitution and all national legislation. The 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, it said.

The Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) is a network formed by parliamentarians from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries. It advocates for human rights and democratic reform in Burma.

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