Fri, Feb 27, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Rights groups urge ASEAN to pressure Myanmar regime


International human rights groups urged leaders of Southeast Asia gathering for their annual summit yesterday to press military-ruled Myanmar to end its gross human rights abuses.

The US also blasted Myanmar’s junta for having “brutally suppressed dissent” through a campaign of extrajudicial killings, disappearances and torture.

The criticism comes as ASEAN, a 10-member bloc that includes Myanmar, prepares for a three-day summit at this beachside resort. Preliminary meetings began yesterday.

“Violations in this ASEAN member state have been going on for decades and include crimes against humanity. To be worthy of its name, the body must be empowered to effectively address human rights in Myanmar,” the London-based Amnesty International said yesterday.

Although reform in Myanmar, also known as Burma, may be discussed on the sidelines of the conference, ASEAN traditionally shies away from all criticism of its members. Instead the delegates will devote most of their time to grappling with how the region can best cope with the global economic crisis.

Thailand, which currently holds ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship and is hosting the summit, bills the meeting as a turning point for the bloc that has long been criticized as a talk shop that forges agreements by consensus and steers away from confrontation.

It will be the first time leaders have meet since the group signed a landmark charter in December. The document made ASEAN a legal entity and moves it a step closer toward the goal of establishing a single market by 2015 and becoming an EU-like community.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a letter to ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, urged the summit on Wednesday to address “the dire human rights situation in Burma” and also improve treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in the region.

Thailand has come in for international criticism for its treatment of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Hundreds of the Muslim asylum seekers went missing, feared drowned, as the Thai military forcibly expelled approximately 1,000 who had arrived in southwest Thailand.

The plight of the stateless Rohingya will be another issue discussed on the sidelines but not as part of the summit’s formal agenda.

“If you ask the officials to put it on the agenda, officials wouldn’t dare,” Surin said in explaining why the Rohingya problem would not be officially discussed. “If they are talking informally over dinner, don’t underestimate it and don’t just deny the possibility that it could become a decision by the ministers and by the leaders ... give the group dynamics a chance.”

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