Germany’s Merkel concerns ASEAN’s chair to Burma-U Zin Linn

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to openly discuss Burma’s political and human rights problems before the country takes its turn as chair of the regional bloc, according to AFP news.

“Looking at the discussion about Myanmar (Burma) and its interest in taking over the presidency of ASEAN, I am a little bit concerned,” she told a forum in Singapore, a founding member of ASEAN.

Merkel told an audience of government officials, foreign diplomats and academics that “the present leadership of Myanmar has not really proved that they are serious about embarking on the road of democracy.”

The 10-member ASEAN rotates its chairmanship annually, with Indonesia currently presiding.

Following ‘the 7 November 2010 election’, the junta released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest on 13 November. Then President Thein Sein’s so-called civilian government took the office in March. Built upon the SPDC’s unilaterally drafted 2008 Constitution and the undemocratic elections in 2010, Thein Sein’s new government will be continually plagued by promises of state impunity and military supremacy.

Although the new government did not stop systematic human rights violations, its authorities said that they were ready to host the ASEAN summit in 2014. However, Last month, other ASEAN leaders said they had no objections in principle to the request but urged Myanmar (Burma) to improve its human rights record leading up to 2014.

Myanmar was originally scheduled to chair an ASEAN summit in 2006, but it skipped its turn to chair because of widespread criticism of its human rights record and negative response to implement political reforms. The United States and European nations have repeatedly called for Rangoon’s government to release 2,000 political prisoners, including opposition ethnic leaders, as well as to carry out democratic transformation.

Human Rights Watch pointed out in its 6th May statement that Burma has failed to address concerns repeatedly raised by ASEAN leaders in past summits.

“Rewarding Burma with ASEAN’s chairmanship after it staged sham elections and still holds 2,000 political prisoners would be an embarrassment for the region,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“ASEAN leaders need to decide if they will let Burma demote ASEAN to the laughingstock of intergovernmental forums.”

However, the Thein Sein government has been reinforcing its troops in several areas where ethnic armed groups that did not follow the border guard force (BGF) plan are based. Armed reinforcements have been reported in Karen State and Shan State in eastern Burma since early this year.

Sporadic armed clashes has been going on recently between the junta’s troops and armed ethnic groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU), the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) Brigade 5, the Shan State Army–North (SSA-North) and Shan State Army-South (SSA-South).

Hence, Burma has been going on with war against the ethnic minorities who are defending their basic civil rights including self-determination. If ASEAN leaders consider offering the chair to Burma in 2014, they should pressure Thein Sein government to stop the unjust war on the ethnic people. They ought to push Burma to end the civil war.

In this ongoing civil war, Burmese soldiers have been committing lots of crimes – lootings, rapes, burnt down villages, destroying the crops, killing innocent ethnic villagers, forced-labor and forced conscription.

In April, an alliance of democratic political parties – Friends of Democratic Parties – pushed the new President Thein Sein to start putting into practice the words made in his inauguration speeches without hindrance. The political party leaders especially called for a general amnesty for political prisoners in the country and the convening of an all-inclusive union conference in quest of reconciliation.

Coincidently, an independent watchdog organization, Freedom House, has named 17 countries and three territories as the world’s most repressive societies in its 2011 report.  Among those topping the list of the world’s worst human rights abusers are Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, and Sudan. The annual report was launched in Geneva.

The countries on the list including Burma have received the lowest rankings on political rights and civil liberties.  The report notes that unfortunately, the same countries keep appearing on this hit parade of violators year after year.

Burma’s Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house-arrest was welcomed worldwide, but Western governments who impose sanctions on Burma want the new government to show more of its commitment to human rights.

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