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should be suspended from ASEAN if the Hamid Albar mission to Myanmar proves
futile and fruitless
by Lim Kit Siang
I am sure the feeling that it is “too little, too late” must be the immediate and common response of many, although everyone tried to suppress such frustration in the hope that something will come out of the Kuala Lumpur ASEAN Summit and the Hamid Albar mission to Myanmar,
The sense of gross inadequacy of the call can only be aggravated when account is taken of the string of past broken promises and pledges by the Myanmar military junta in ASEAN meetings to respect human rights and promote democratization – most significantly, the categorical promise given by the then Myanmar Foreign Minister at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Pnomh Penh in June 2003 for the “early” release of Aung San Suu Kyi. This “early” release of Aung San Suu Kyi has turned out to be a continued incarceration for 30 months and more, as her detention had just been extended before the Kuala Lumpur ASEAN Summit.
If the Myanmar military junta had repeatedly taken ASEAN and the international community for a ride with broken promises to release Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners in the country as well as to embark on the process of democratization and national reconciliation, what is there to prevent the reluctantly-approved visit of the ASEAN mission headed by Malaysian Foreign Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, from becoming another futile and meaningless visit as had been made previously by the special envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General Tan Sri Razali Ismail and the United Nations Special Rapportueur on Human Rights Situation in Myanmar Sergio Pinheiro?
Is the Myanmar military junta prepared to give the Hamid Albar mission full freedom of movement and contacts, including meeting Aung San Suu Kyi and unfettered access with different cross-sections of the Myanmese society, so as to permit a meaningful ASEAN visit to report on the status of human rights, democratization and national reconciliation eight years after Myanmar’s membership in ASEAN?
As stated by the Amnesty International report on Myanmar released in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, the human rights situation in Myanmar has deteriorated during 2005, with the Myanmar authorities increasingly using the justice system as a tool to stifle peaceful dissent.
Amnesty International has rightly pointed out that the people of Myanmar have seen no significant improvement in human rights, democracy or national reconciliation for seventeen years – with people being prosecuted for reporting human rights violations and talking to journalists; lengthy prison sentences handed down to political figures for engaging in political discussion; torture continuing and people dying in suspicious circumstances in prisons.
In October, Pinheiro reported that “widespread and systematic human rights violations, grave abuses against ethnic communities, and lack of freedom of assembly and association are still the norm in Myanmar”.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly's Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee, he noted that despite receiving numerous reports on rights violations in Myanmar, neither he nor the Secretary-General's Special Envoy have been invited to visit the country since November 2003, and that he had become frustrated with his task.
Based on the information he was able to cull, he recited a litany of serious human rights abuses and violations in his report, including the lack of freedom of assembly and of the press, the jailing of more than 1,100 people including poets, journalists, monks, students and teachers, the well known case of Nobel Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's prolonged house detention, and numerous other detentions of opposition politicians for years at a time.
He said the Government's plan for democracy "has no time frame and no scale" while deploring abuses against ethnic groups, the prevalence of forced labour of men, women, children and elderly, and forced relocations of entire villages.
From the end of 2002 to October 2004 he estimated that 157,000 people were displaced by armed conflict, and 240 villages destroyed or relocated. Between 700,000 and a million people have fled Myanmar to nearby Thailand, and others have fled to India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and other countries to escape human rights violations, he added.
He also spoke about the persistent structural problems – the economy spiralling downward, drug trafficking a pressing problem, and HIV/AIDS infections increasing at a rapid rate.
Pinheiro will step down as UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Human Rights Situation in April 2006, transformed from an “cautious optimist” when he was first appointed four years ago to “a frustrated skepticist”.
All who are concerned about human rights and democracy in Burma wish Hamid Albar well and best success in his mission to Myanmar, but can he succeed where Razali Ismail, Pihheiro and so many other UN Special Rapportuers and ASEAN leaders had failed before?
If not, ASEAN leaders must accept the call of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Myanmar (AIPMC) representing e ASEAN Parliamentarians transcending political party, ideological and national boundaries, that Myamar should be suspended from ASEAN if there are meaningful and substantive progress in democratization and national reconciliation in Burma by September next year.
Syed Hamid had previously cautioned the international community not to rush into isolating Myanmar as it could backfire and bring more damage to the country and its 54 million people.
Nobody wants to isolate the 54 million people in Myanmar who deserve a break to better their quality of life, but if the best way to promote the well-being of the 54 million people of Myanmar is to isolate the Myanmese military junta, then this problem must be seriously considered by the other nine ASEAN governments.
Suspend Myanmar from ASEAN if the Hamid Albar mission proves tutile and fruitless.
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP
Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman