The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is expressing concern over Burma's decision to exclude pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from future elections. The statement from ASEAN follows the completion of Burma's draft constitution. But the regional bloc still says it will not interfere in Burma's domestic affairs. Naomi Martig reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.
Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo says Burma's decision to bar Aung San Suu Kyi from participating in elections is odd and out of date. Singapore currently holds ASEAN's rotating leadership. Yeo spoke late Tuesday in Singapore, where foreign ministers from the 10-member organization are holding meetings.
But, in keeping with ASEAN's history of non-interference in member states' affairs, Yeo also said the group could do little about Burma's decision.
On Tuesday, Burma's state-run radio said a 54-member commission had approved the draft constitution. It prohibits Aung San Suu Kyi from participating in elections because she was married to a foreigner. The democracy leader was married to a British national, who died of cancer in 1999.
Roshan Jason is executive director of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus in Malaysia. He said ASEAN's statement on Burma was weak, especially since it recently signed a charter that calls on member states to protect human rights in the region.
"I think ASEAN has failed in its first attempt to uphold its promises to make sure the region consists of countries which respect human rights," said Jason.
Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 12 of the last 18 years under detention, and is currently under house arrest in Rangoon. Her party won a landslide election in 1990, but the military government refused to recognize the results. Since then, it has prevented the party from taking office.
Jason said he does not expect ASEAN to take a stronger stance anytime soon, because addressing human rights in Burma could force other member states to acknowledge their own shortcomings.
"You have countries in the region as well, member states of ASEAN, who have, who are in their own way, levels, committing human rights abuses," noted Jason. "You've got draconian laws in various countries; you've got arbitrary arrests; you've got former military dictatorships taking the form of civil, political groups."
Jason also says the bloc is choosing money over the basic rights of Burma's people, as many ASEAN members have strong business interests in Burma. ASEAN has argued that trade will help bring about reform in Burma, one of the poorest countries in the region.
Burma says it will hold a national referendum in May to approve the new draft constitution. The international community has criticized the document because Aung San Suu Kyi and independent political parties were barred from the drafting process. Burma's military government says general elections will be held in 2010.