Beware of ASEAN rights diplomacy

By Awzar Thi
Column: Rule of Lords

Last Friday, 10 civil society representatives learned the hard way what a new Asian regional human rights initiative is really all about.
The 10 had expected to meet leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, one representing each country in the grouping, for a chat prior to the launch of the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.

But the night before, officials from the Foreign Ministry of Thailand – where the event was being held – said that only five would be allowed through the door. When the five arrived at the venue, officials told them that they could not open their mouths.

Welcome to human rights dialogue, ASEAN style.

In a statement, the spurned activists said that the move was “a rejection of both civil society and the democratic process” that “sabotages the credibility” of the new commission. Media reports cited other groups as “bashing” and “deriding” the body.

All this seems to be much ado about nothing.

It was obvious from the start that the purpose of the new ASEAN body is not to protect human rights. Its purpose is the exact opposite.

ASEAN has created the Intergovernmental Commission so that member governments and their own ineffectual rights institutions can push complaints of abuses outside their borders. There they can be professionally watered down and run through various “channels” and “mechanisms” until the original point is forgotten and frustrated complainants give up.

Although the commission is not intended to promote rights, it is aiming to promote members’ campaigns for seats on prestigious international bodies, like the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Thailand has already announced that it will bid for the peak U.N. rights body next year. Its current ambassador to the council was government spokesman when former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration was enabling the murder of thousands of alleged drug dealers in 2003.

In his new improved role as ASEAN human rights defender, the ambassador has been working on the intergovernmental body, perhaps with the expectancy of a better seat at the big hall in Geneva.

That these governments are working hard on their human rights diplomacy for reasons other than human rights is unsurprising. That civil society groups have been suckered into the diplomacy agenda is unfortunate.

Not only has it proven to be a complete waste of time and money, but also it is damaging to the defense of human rights in Asia.

Human rights diplomacy causes groups to lose touch with the real work of human rights advocacy. Diplomacy obliges negotiation and compromise. It is the stuff of closed doors and secret handshakes. By contrast, advocacy means standing firm on principles. It is necessarily public and open. Continue reading “Beware of ASEAN rights diplomacy”

2 soldiers shot for complaining against order


Two soldiers from an infantry battalion in Shan State South, which was responsible for the reconstruction of houses for junta’s scorched earth victims in late July, got shot by their commander for complaining against the command, local sources said.

The shooting took place on 23 October, at 22:00 (Burmese standard time) in Mongkueng township’s Hokhai village tract125 houses of which were burned down in the junta’s scorched earth campaign against the Shan State Army (SSA) South, from 27 July- 1 August.

The shooting broke out among lower officers and deputy battalion commander of Mong Pawn-based Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #517, Major Aung Naing Htoo. No one was reported dead but Sergeant Myint Zaw and Private Aung Soe were wounded, said a local villager.

According to him, the incident was started by the commander as most of his soldiers complained the project was such a hard work.

“They first ordered us to burn those houses, and again it was us to rebuild,” a source quoted one of the soldiers as saying.

A month after the campaign, two battalions under the Shan State South’s Mongnawng-based Military Operations Command # 2; Mongpawn based Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #517 and Loilem based Infantry Battalion (IB) #12 were in charge of the construction project to be finished within three months in accordance with the order of the Chairman of Shan State (South) Peace and Development Council and Commander of Eastern Region Command Brig-Gen Ya Pyae. Continue reading “2 soldiers shot for complaining against order”

Negotiation over the Nationality Verification of Myanmar Workers, the Thailand-Myanmar Committee confirmed no arrest for the returned Myanmar Workers.

On 12th October 2009, Mr.Phaithoon Kaeothong, Minister of Labour, together with H.E.U Maung Myint, Myanmar Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs convened a meeting to discuss and sign the Agreed Minutes of meeting Nationality Verification of Myanmar Workers 7th Thailand-Myanmar during 10-13 October 2009
Mr.Paithoon stated that there was some progress on the negotiation over Nationality Verification of the Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand. As 2,053 from more than 1 million of irregular migrant workers from Myanmar have already been verified the nationality, and approximately 700,000 people have already registered to the authority, but the remaining 300,000 workers are yet to be listed which the National Committee on Illegal Worker Administration will bring this issue into the cabinet meeting next week.
From this Nationality Verification for Myanmar workers, it is considered that Myanmar, which is the country of origin, has certified the nationality of illegal migrants in order to help them migrating legally into Thailand and also granting temporary visa to those already registered to stay and work in the specific sectors which suffered from Thai labours shortage. The granted period will be until 28th February 2010, and can be extended for 2 years case by case. In addition, the service charge, which includes transportation, meals, and miscellaneous expenses to import Myanmar workers, shall be collected and not more than 4,000 THB per person, but the Myanmar authority requested to reduce the fee to 1,000 THB per person. Nevertheless, there was a question from the correspondent regarding the rumours that Myanmar workers in Thailand were facing so many threats such as to be captured during nationality verification in Myanmar, to collect taxes, and to persecute the relative in Myanmar. In this matter, Thailand Minister of Labour and Myanmar Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs insisted that those rumours were totally groundless, but if there is any evidence regarding this matter, it can be submitted to the authority. Moreover, Myanmar government also set up the Labour Assistance Center in Thailand to conduct the public relation in Myanmar language.
Furthermore, Myanmar and Thailand have signed the Agreed Minutes of Nationality Verification Meeting between Mr. Jirasak Sukonthachat, Director General of the Department of Employment, and Mr. U Min Lwin, Director General of the Consular & Legal Affairs Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar. The objective of an agreement is to reduce the visa fee for first 10,000 legal Myanmar labours from 2,000 THB to 500 THB which the draft was proposed to the Cabinet meeting to approve, and the 500 THB visa fee will add to the Migrant Worker Foundation which would use to manage and return those labours to country of origin without using the regular budget. More importantly, money from the foundation will be used to provide 3 basic social insurance programs which include sickness, disability, and decease compensation whether it is caused by work or not. In addition, the registered labours would receive other required protections such as minimum salary and so on.

National Politics Party, NUP and USDA Start a Secret Campaign for 2010 Elections

October 29, 2009
Unsurprisingly, Burma’s 2010 elections will not be free and fair, even though the ruling military government has yet to announce any restrictive or biased election laws, elections processes, or political party formation laws. The SPDC has already privileged the secret campaigns of certain military commanders, the National Politics Party (NPP), and other SPDC-supporting political groups like the National Unity Party (NUP), and the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).
In Mon State, according to news from local political analysts, Brigadier. Gen. Ohn Myint (a Mon State native from Mudon Township and the former SPDC’s Minister for Mining and National Resources) and the military commanders from the Southeast Command, traveled to many Mon villages and had official discussions with local community leaders. Brigadier Gen. Ohn Myint has promised to the villagers in Mon State that he will provide for a great deal of community development projects in the future. This is an attempt at ‘vote-buying’ in Mon State.
According to an unconfirmed information source, Brigadier. Gen. Ohn Myint will be promoted to the office of Prime Minister of Mon State if he wins in the elections, as he is a native to Mon State. Currently, he is the chairman of the Mon State USDA. All current military commanders will be retired when the electoral laws are announced, and they will form a political party under the name of National Politics Party (NPP).
In a similar situation, the country’s former socialist party under a new name, the NUP, started their campaign activities in mid-2009. They have contacted the former socialist party members (who ruled Burma from 1974 to 1988) and their relatives, to invite them to apply as members to the newly-formed NUP. They also have secretly met with village leaders and tried to buy votes from the people. They promised that if they win in the elections, a greater percentage of their budget will go to their voters. Continue reading “National Politics Party, NUP and USDA Start a Secret Campaign for 2010 Elections”

India-Myanmar(BURMA) Relations:A Review

by ChennaiCenter for China Studies

R.Swaminathan, C3S Paper No.396 dated October 29, 2009
Relations between India and Myanmar over nearly five decades have been governed by many complex factors. Amongst them are the strategic location of Myanmar, India’s commitment to idealism-driven support to the restoration of democracy in Myanmar, realism-driven need to deal with those actually governing the country, the implications of China’s increasing presence and role in Myanmar etc. China, fortunately for it, has been able to make its foreign policy decisions without having to bother about the nature of the regime in any country.

India and Myanmar share a complicated and delicate history, marked as much by mistrust as amity. For those who may be interested, a “Historical Background” is annexed to this paper.


Pro-Democracy Protests in 2007

A series of anti-government protests started in Myanmar on 15 August 2007. The immediate and stated cause of the protests was mainly the decision of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to remove fuel subsidies, resulting in very steep increases in the prices of diesel, petrol and compressed natural gas. The first demonstrations were dealt with quickly and harshly, with many arrested and detained. Starting 18 September, the protests were led by thousands of Buddhist monks, and those were also allowed to proceed. Initially, only a few hundred monks walked down the streets but, by end-September, the protesting crowds had grown to 100,000 – both monks and democracy activists. There was a renewed government crackdown on 26 September.

The military junta’s actions against the “peaceful” and “almost Gandhian” ptotestors evoked a considerable amount of international condemnation. However, Beijing expectedly showed more interest in maintaining stability than in pushing for democracy.

In an official statement issued in the wake of the violence, India expressed its support for the “undaunted resolve of the Burmese people to achieve democracy”. The Burmese language service of All-India Radio (AIR) was more outspoken in its criticism of Myanmar’s military government. It said that India was gradually succeeding in weaning Myanmar away from its near-total dependence on China for economic and military support. It could not therefore be expected to take the strong position that the US, the European Union and Myanmar dissidents were asking her to take; and thus risk – to China’s benefit – the precious foothold it had achieved in Myanmar over the previous decade.

Ibrahim Gambari, the United Nations special envoy to Myanmar, undertook a tour across Asia, with the hope of cajoling Asian governments to take a tougher stance on the junta’s crushing of the protests. When he called on India (in October 2007) to join other countries in pressing Myanmar’s military rulers to stop their campaign of repression against pro-democracy protesters, the Indian government described Myanmar as its “close and friendly neighbor” and assured that it would help in Myanmar’s national reconciliation. India’s decision to avoid direct criticism of the military regime came in for a lot of adverse comments. However, it is not as if India was totally silent on the issue. When Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win, who visited India in January 2008, called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the PM emphasized that there was need for greater urgency in bringing about political reforms and national reconciliation. “This process has to be broad-based to include all sections of society, including Aung San Suu Kyi and the various ethnic groups.”

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi (the daughter of “General” Aung San) has been under house arrest almost continually since 1989. When anti-government protests intensified in September 2007, hundreds of monks paid respects to her at the gate of her home. This was the first time in four years that people were able to see her in public. On 29 September, she was allowed to leave her house briefly to meet with a UN envoy who was trying to persuade (eventually, successfully) the junta to ease its crackdown against pro-democracy protesters.

On 4 May 2009, a mentally unbalanced American (John Yettaw) swam across the lake and entered the house of Aung San Suu Kyi, uninvited, and remained there for two nights. Instead of faulting those in charge of security, both the intruder and Suu Kyi were held in prison and put on trial. While the intruder was sentenced to imprisonment, Suu Kyi was awarded (on 11 August 2009) an additional 18 months of house arrest – beyond the earlier term which was due to end on 27 May 2009. The sentencing once again showed how the milit.ary junta was determined to stop her participation in the elections to be held in 2010. In a declared act of “benevolence”, the government had commuted the court’s original sentence of three-years hard labour.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s conviction drew almost universal condemnation. President Obama demanded her immediate release while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated that “This is a purely political sentence designed to prevent her from taking part in the regime’s planned elections next year” and called for a UN embargo on all arms exports to Burma. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France sought fresh restrictions on Myanmar’s two important export items – rubies and hardwood. Thailand was even more explicit and urged Myanmar to immediately free Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest to allow her to play a role in next year’s general election. However, action by the U.N. Security Council was stalled due to reservations on the part of Russia and China. “India’s reaction to the conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi was shameful to say the least. It had not one word of condemnation or even ‘disappointment”, wrote Col. Hariharan, a very senior analyst of intelligence and security issues.
Suu Kyi is said to have written a letter to Than Shwe, offering to work towards reducing international sanctions on Myanmar, and asked to meet representatives of the US, EU and Australia. Either in a reaction to this or in response to US overtures and demands, two meetings were held in October 2009 between the junta’s liaison officer (Labor Minister and retired Major General Aung Kyi) and Suu Kyi. She was also allowed to meet with representatives from the US, Australia and the European Union. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party has also been allowed to meet with foreign diplomats, including a meeting (on 20 October 2009) with the US charge d’ affaires. Cynical observers may say that the generals are making yet another attempt to put off international pressure, only to revert back to repression once attention shifts elsewhere. Or, are the generals playing the US card against China, knowing that any improvement in relations with Washington will improve its leverage with Beijing?

Prime Minister General Thein Sein told (on 25 October 2009) the leaders attending the East Asian Summit in Thailand that the junta will consider relaxing the terms of Suu Kyi’s house arrest if she “maintains a good attitude”. He also said that she can contribute to national reconciliation. continue
click on India-Myanmar(BURMA) Relations:A Review

A Chinese delegation arrived in Rangoon yesterday to discuss the gas pipeline project,

by Moe Thu
Friday, 30 October 2009 11:56

Rangoon (Mizzima) – A Chinese delegation arrived in Rangoon yesterday to discuss the gas pipeline project, which is to link western Burma’s coastal area to China’s Yunnan province and the recent spate of protests against it, said a source in the energy sector.

The China National Petroleum Corporation’s delegation arrived former capital to talk about technical issues with Burmese authorities over the controversial project, which began in mid-September amid criticism by right groups, the source said.

The 980-kilometre pipeline is part of a 30-year natural gas purchase and sale deal CNPC sealed last December with a consortium of the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, South Korea’s Daewoo International, ONGC Videsh Limited and Gail (India) Limited.

The strategically important pipeline, which will transmit oil and natural gas from Africa and the Middle East, will shorten the transportation distance, and will pass through Arakan (Rakhine) State, Magwe division, Mandalay division and Yunnan in China. Currently it is transported by tankers through the Malacca strait to China.

The consortium found commercially viable gas deposits in A-1 and A-3 offshore blocks in Burma, which is also known as the Shwe gas project.

In response to the pipeline project, which is having a negative impact on the people – such as forced relocation – along the areas the pipeline is to be built, there have been vehement protests in India, Thailand, the United Kingdom and South Korea.

Shwe Gas campaigners said the project will generate about $ 29 billion over three decades for the Burmese junta.