AFTER THE ASEAN CHARTER came into force on December 15 2008, members were obliged to follow objectives, principles and norms set forth in the document. These include the promotion and protection of human and other fundamental rights. What the Burmese regime has done against the opposition of Aung San Suu Kyi and its other citizens is not part of Asean’s standards or practices.
Before the charter’s drafting, it was customary for Asean members to defend their colleagues to ensure continued unity. As a regional organisation, Asean also protected members from outsider pressures and scrutiny. Under such conditions, the principle of non-interference was the mantra to glue Asean together and silence criticisms from within. Even before Burma joined Asean in 1997, the grouping was providing the most effective shield to the regime – first as an Asean observer (1995) and a signatory to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (1996) – over Burma’s preponderance for using force against its own people. The East-West divide also augmented Asean’s determination to admit Burma, despite repeated warnings of the consequences.
During the deadly Depayin incident in May 2003, when Suu Kyi was almost killed by junta-sponsored thugs, Asean leaders were uncharacteristically silent. At the summit in Phnom Penh six months later, the Asean leaders gave a vote of confidence to the newly appointed Burmese prime minister Lt General Khin Nyunt, hoping he could lead changes from the inside. Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra also backed the new leader saying Burma deserved a second chance. In October 2004, Khin Nyunt was purged from power and placed under house-arrest.
Now Asean has shown some backbone in handling Burma’s situation and the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as with its Western dialogue partners, after Asean gained the charter. The Asean chair’s statement calling for her release was the strongest ever from a country with which it shares one of the longest common borders in Southeast Asia.
Continue reading “REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE-It’s incumbent upon Thailand to lead Asean on Burma”
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