Accessibility links

Breaking News

ASEAN Leaders Fail to Censure Burma on Human Rights Record

The annual meeting of the leaders from the Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, has disappointed the hopes of human rights campaigners by failing to censure member-nation Burma. But the failure has not come as a surprise for many activists.

Before the annual two-day ASEAN meeting, hopes had been high that Burma would come under public pressure to reform its abysmal human rights record and move towards democracy.

ASEAN nations have traditionally been reluctant to criticize other members of the club, but recently countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia have called for the military junta that runs Burma to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

But there has been no criticism at the current meeting. Instead, the leaders put out a statement welcoming a vague blueprint for democracy issued by the Burmese authority. The ASEAN statement failed to mention Aung San Suu Kyi, who was put in what Rangoon calls "protective custody" since a government-backed mob attacked her convoy on May 30.

Sunai Phasuk is a Thai human rights campaigner, and he says ASEAN's policy of "constructive engagement" has failed and that he believes the reluctance of ASEAN nations to criticize one of their own is rooted in their own indifferent rights records.

"ASEAN is an association of governments and it is an association of governments which have a very bad record of human rights and democracy," he said. "Not only the issue of Burma; we have the issue of Aceh; the extrajudicial killings in Thailand; the lack of freedom in Laos, Vietnam; the political violence in Cambodia; the lack of political pluralism in Malaysia and Singapore; the increasing discrimination against Muslims in the Philippines… All these are major concerns."

He believes that the only way that the Burmese authorities can be persuaded to move towards democracy is for the United States and the European Union to continue to apply pressure not just directly to Rangoon, but also to Burma's regional and economic partners.

The military in Burma decided to hang on to power after an overwhelming general election victory by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in 1990. Since then, the Nobel peace Laureate has spent more than half her time under house arrest.