ASEAN’s Silence on Burma at the UN Human Rights Council: Don’t Speak Ill of Your Family in Front of Others

Fri, 25/09/2009 – 11:34
(23 September 2009, Geneva/Bangkok) The United Nations Human Rights Council (Council) concluded its general debate yesterday, under “agenda item 4: human rights situations that require the Council’s attention”. This crucial agenda item is to provide the Council with the opportunity to bring to attention country-specific human rights situations. Regrettably, however, this was not the case at the 12th regular session of the Council with only 14 member and observer States addressing the Council on Burma.

The common thread of the statements delivered by Sweden (on behalf of the European Union), France, Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom, Japan, Belgium, United States, Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Australia, Czech Republic and New Zealand, centered around the deep disappointment at the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, the call for the release of all other political prisoners and the need to continue with the process towards democratisation, particularly in light of the upcoming 2010 elections.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) also seized this opportunity under agenda item 4 to highlight the pressing human rights situation in Burma. In its oral statement delivered on 22 September, FORUM-ASIA focused on the failure of the 2008 Constitution to uphold the principles of a free and fair referendum process, as well as the fundamental flaws contained in it, namely, the Constitution effectively subordinates civilian authorities to the country’s military establishment and fails to provide a full separation of powers between the branches of the government. Moreover, FORUM-ASIA reminded the Council that the prolonged detention of Aung San Suu Kyi is a stark reminder of the persecution of thousands of other political prisoners and human rights defenders in the country. FORUM-ASIA urged the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Mr. Thomas Ojea Quintana, to make an immediate visit to the country, to ensure that the preparatory process is carried out in a transparent manner, leading to free and fair 2010 elections, with international monitors.

FORUM-ASIA also called upon neighbouring countries particularly the member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China and India, to play a lead role in the engagement with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), to facilitate the democratisation process and to ensure the effective protection of human rights in Burma.

Deplorably, the platform of this Council failed to be used yesterday by not only neighbouring countries, but Asian countries in general, with the exception of Japan, to speak on the situation in Burma. In particular, such silence on the part of the ASEAN countries is a contradiction to the previously perceived commitment by many ASEAN member States including Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand. As stated by Mr. Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA, “this demonstrates a serious lack of political will and effectiveness of the ASEAN as a regional body which claims to adhere to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. While we appreciate the efforts of some governments to make a joint appeal of the ASEAN at the General Assembly for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, we deeply regret that the same effort has not been taken at the Human Rights Council nor has any ASEAN member State speak out on Burma in its own national capacity. ”

Ironically, the only voice that spoke aggressively on Burma was the country itself. While labeling the statements on Burma as politically motivated attempts, in its right of reply, the Permanent Representative of Burma to the United Nations, Ambassador U Wunna Maung Lwin outrageously referred to the unjustifiable and arbitrary verdict against Aung San Suu Kyi, as being “entirely in compliance with the judicial system of Myanmar and it was totally in line with the existing laws”. He went on to inform the Council that on 17 September, the government had granted amnesty to 7,114 prisoners. However, the crucial figures that should have been highlighted in this regard are that only 127 ‘political prisoners’ have been released, and more than 2,000 political prisoners remain in jail.

At the two years anniversary of the Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council held in October 2007 on the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations of monks and nuns, FORUM-ASIA expresses its deep regret at the failure of the ASEAN countries to speak out on the plights of people in Burma thus undermining the very essence of the Council and calls upon the ASEAN member States to make clear that they stand with victims of human rights abuses in Burma and that the SPDC’s refusal to heed the repeated calls by the international community will be followed up with stronger measures.

Annex: Full text of FORUM-ASIA’s oral statement on Burma and the Right of Reply exercised by U Wunna Maung Lwin, Ambassador/Permanent Representative of Burma to the UN


Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a membership-based regional human rights organisation committed to the promotion and protection of all human rights including the right to development. As a regional forum with 46 member organizations across Asia, FORUM-ASIA seeks to facilitate dialogue, capacity building, and networking, among human rights defenders, civil society actors and organizations in Asia. FORUM-ASIA, as an NGO in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), also promotes cooperation with government, inter-governmental organizations and the United Nations for the betterment of people’s lives and the full respect of human rights and human dignity.

United Nations Human Rights Council is made up of 47 member States responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. The Council was created by the UN General Assembly on March 2006 thus replaced the former Commission on Human Rights, with the main purpose of addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.

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