Calls to ASEAN to form a strong human rights body

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FRIDAY, 17 JULY 2009

Phuket, Thailand (Mizzima) ­ ASEAN civil society organizations have highlighted Burma as a benchmark for ASEAN human rights issues and called for a strong Human Rights Body to place Burma on the agenda of the next ASEAN Summit.

Sixty nine civil society groups in Asia Pacific urged members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to take firm action in response to Burma’s continued non-compliance with the ASEAN Charter, according to an open letter released in a press conference prior the 42nd meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers with their dialogue partners in Phuket, the island province of Thailand.

“ASEAN countries must address Burma’s flagrant violations of its new charter. As long as the military continues to systematically attack civilians and jail opposition leaders, how can we believe in the junta’s repeated claims of bringing democracy to the country? ” asked Aung Myo Min, coordinator of the Task Force on ASEAN and Burma (TFAB), a network of Burma’s civil society working to promote a people-centered ASEAN that is supportive of the cause of democracy, human rights and peace in Burma.

“At this critical juncture, ASEAN cannot afford to be weak on Human Rights. ASEAN leaders must take firmer measures and not let Burma slide by on false promises. Otherwise, it risks losing its credibility in the international community,” said Khin Omar, Coordinator of Burma Partnership, a network of Burmese and regional civil society.

The letter calls on ASEAN Foreign Ministers to employ a charter provision stating that “in the case of serious breach of the Charter or non-compliance, the matter shall be referred to the 15th ASEAN Summit for a decision.”

The group ended the letter saying “ASEAN must stand by the people of Burma and show solidarity with friends throughout Asia as we seek to eradicate systematic human rights violations and implement national reconciliation and peace in Burma.”

At a conference on Friday, representatives from civil society groups in the region urged the ASEAN to create a strong Human Rights Body committed to action from the member states that would ensure a better human rights situation in the region.

Wathshlah Naidu, Programme Officer of International Women’s Rights Action Watch ­ Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP) said at the conference, “we want a strong protection mandate, which includes the capacity to conduct on site visits, conduct investigations and issue recommendation to a member state as well as to institute a mechanism for receiving and addressing complaints. The body also should be independent, effective and credible.”

Sinapan Samydorai, from ASEAN Migrant Workers Group, said ASEAN should appoint a sub-committee responsible for migrant workers as the cross border labour condition is a significant issue.

The 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting is to be held from July 17 to 23, 2009, at the Holiday Island of Phuket in Southern Thailand.

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