Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Rights groups rail against crackdown


Southeast Asian nations are using the war against terrorism as an excuse to step up political repression and crack down against their own citizens, representatives of regional human rights groups said yesterday.

"ASEAN governments have hardened repressive laws and have justified the use of violence against innocent civilians in the name of national security and the war on terrorism," said Debbie Stothard, head of Bangkok-based ALTSEAN, a human rights group.

"Ironically, [this] seems to be contributing to more repression and terrorism in the region," she said.

Stothard was speaking at a hotel in Bali's Nusa Dua resort, near the conference center hosting the annual summit of ASEAN.

After Indonesian authorities denied them access to the main venue, non-governmental organizations from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines decided to stage an "alternative ASEAN" nearby.

The politically diverse 10-member ASEAN consists of fledgling democracies, communist countries, authoritarian capitalist states and a military dictatorship.

Human rights groups complain a long-standing agreement not to meddle in each other's internal affairs has contributed to keeping much of Southeast Asia in the grips of non-democratic regimes.

Despite the noninterference rule, ahead of this year's summit ASEAN leaders have pressed Myanmar's military rulers to release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Her continued detention is an embarrassment for the region and hampers efforts to attract foreign investment.

Stothard blasted the grouping for allowing Myanmar -- previously known as Burma -- to remain a member despite the government's crackdown on pro-democracy forces.

"It is ironic to see that after six years of sitting on their hands, ASEAN leaders are now wringing their hands about Burma," she said. "They should insist that the regime release Suu Kyi and all political prisoners."

Sunai Phasuk from Forum-Asia blasted the human rights record of Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, saying his government was "a major impediment for ASEAN to truly become a regional community that promotes human rights, democracy and fairness."

"After decades of people's struggle for democracy, it has taken Thaksin less than three years to create a police state and install a climate of fear."

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