Among the 10-member countries of ASEAN, Burma is considered the most brutal to its own citizens. Its human rights record is unsurpassed in the region. Among its fellow ASEAN members, Burma is uncooperative. Its secretive regime, a military junta has ruled, or “misruled”, Burma for the past 43 years. The issue of Burma is no longer foreign in the eyes of many political analysts around the world. Its wanton trampling of human rights hog the headlines and sends chills to all democracy loving-people especially Filipinos who have ousted two corrupt and authoritarian governments through people power.
YOU feel the cool breeze. And the twin sense of tension and excitement upon seeing the dangling tarpaulins in the streets. The atmosphere is festive. Everybody seems to be busy preparing decors and rushing things for the much awaited event this month of December. Is Santa Claus coming to town? No. At least, not yet. The Philippines is abuzz not because Christmas is fast approaching. There’s another party in town—the 12th ASEAN Summit which will be held in Cebu City from December 10-14.
The Philippines, as the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, will host the 12th ASEAN Summit. Last year’s summit was hosted by Malaysia.
The summit plans, among others, to strengthen cooperation inside ASEAN towards greater regional integration by 2020. It is composed of 10-member countries that include the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Burma (Myanmar), Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei. ASEAN has been in existence for almost four decades now. 39 years to be exact.
But among the 10-member countries of ASEAN, Burma is considered the most brutal to its own citizens. Its human rights record is unsurpassed in the region. Among its fellow ASEAN members, Burma is uncooperative. Its secretive regime, a military junta has ruled, or “misruled”, Burma for the past 43 years. The issue of Burma is no longer foreign in the eyes of many political analysts around the world. Its wanton trampling of human rights hog the headlines and sends chills to all democracy loving-people especially Filipinos who have ousted two corrupt and authoritarian governments through people power.
On Sept 15, the UN Security Council (UNSC) made a remarkable contribution to hopefully improve the conditions in Burma when it included the military-ruled country in its formal agenda. The council voted 10-4 to list Burma, which has drawn international condemnation for detaining hundreds of political opponents including Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, who has been under house arrest for most of the past 17 years.
As expected, the Burmese military junta again virtually ignored or simply denied all accusations hurled against them. Citing that Burma’s problems are merely domestic concerns, the junta is now at a loss how to spin a fitting alibi for Burma to be excluded in the council’s agenda. Being inscribed in the formal agenda of the UNSC, the Burma issue can be deliberated anytime by the council.
For the international community that advocates for the restoration of democracy in Burma, it’s inclusion in the UNSC is major step forward. But being included in the UNSC is not the end of this battle against the repressive regime in Rangoon.
Challenge to the ASEAN
ince Burma was admitted into the ASEAN in 1997 on the premise that it could be nudge to democratize by a peer group of nations, the Burmese junta has failed to show any concrete reforms to improve its human rights situation and even failed to implement its own so-called roadmap for democratization. In fact, the junta has become worse than before it joined ASEAN.
The “ASEAN’s constructive engagement with Burma”, as a policy, was simply used by the junta to shield itself from international criticism. Every time Burma is assailed on various issues, the junta consistently insists on ASEAN’s standing policy of non interference in domestic affairs. It is as if the constructive engagement policy is a Bible that violating it would amount to blasphemy.
Though there are member states inside ASEAN, specially Malaysia, that are now critical of the junta, we can say that efforts and pressures being applied are not enough to shake the leadership of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) that have mastered the art of self isolation. Suu Kyi, with the rest of hundreds of political leaders is still under detention. The economy of Burma is also on the drain because the junta allots a bigger budget to the military and consciously ignores its hungry population.
Surely, the 12th ASEAN Summit would reduce itself to a mere “talking club” if it does not assess what the regional grouping had accomplished for reforms to happen in Burma. ASEAN must show that it is a potent democratic tool that abhors tyranny and human rights abuses.
The peoples of Burma need everybody’s help. They are tired. They have been exploited far too long. And they cannot wait for the next ASEAN summit just again to say ENOUGH!
The writer is the Burma Advocacy Staff of the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID).