Civil society groups protest Asean government appointments

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WEDNESDAY, 04 MAY 2011

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Asean governments have apparently taken control of civil society group nominations and agenda-setting for the May 7 interface dialogue between civil society groups and Asean leaders in Jakarta, the Bangkok Post reports.

Under the Asean charter’s principle of ‘a people-centered Asean’, civil society groups and representatives are encouraged to participate in the process of Asean integration and community-building, but the governments of Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines and Burma have all hand-picked civil society delegates who they favor, according to the Post.

More than 1,000 members of regional Asean civil society met on Tuesday and Wednesday to exchange ideas on a variety of important issues at the Jakarta 2011 Asean Civil Society Conference (ACSC) and the Asean People’s Forum (APF) and will present collective recommendations to Asean leaders on May 7.

As a result of the Asean selection process, some NGO representatives have threatened to boycott the interface dialogue meeting.

The Burmese government has proposed Sit Aye, a senior anti-drugs official, to represent Burmese civil society. However, a group of independent Burmese NGOs selected Chiang Mai-based Aung Myo Min of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB) to represent them.

Aung Myo Min of HREIB, told Mizzima that; ‘If the government picks up their favoured person without the support of the Burma’s civil society organisation participants from the Asean people’s forum, this is totally against the principle of Asean People’s Forum, it will likely be boycotted by the civil society organisation’s delegates’.

Debbie Stothard, the coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network for Burma (ALTSEAN), told Mizzima, ‘It’s an ongoing struggle trying to help Asean leaders deal with their allergy to independent civil society representatives’.

‘One of the ongoing problems is that some governments insist on selecting their own civil society, instead of civil society selecting their own representatives’, she said.

Civil society groups had hoped that the interface dialogue would be opened up because it will be held in a democratic country like Indonesia, but the opposite was occurring, she said.

‘Indonesia is actually being hijacked and sabotaged by some Asean governments who are reluctant even to be in the same room with civil society’.

Wong Aung, a co-ordinator of the Shwe Gas Movement, told Mizzima, ‘A civil society representative from Burma has to attend, and if they have been nominated by the government, this really does not meet the criteria for the role of civil society’.

Speaking to delegates at the Asean Civil Society Conference (ACSC) and the Asean People’s Forum, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in a pre-recorded video, ‘Governments are important, but only so far as they work for the people. So let us look forward to the day when it is the people of Asean who decide what shape our region is going to take’.

Burma’s membership in Asean has been controversial since it joined the group in 1997. Burma was invited to become an Asean founding member in 1967, but it refused, branding Asean an imperialist organization.

In a statement addressed to the Asean leaders attending the 18th Asean Summit in Jakarta this week from the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), the group called on the leaders to ‘reject the application by Myanmar [Burma] to chair Asean in 2014 unless real democratic and human rights reforms are made by the Myanmar government’.

The statement called oppression in Burma a ‘black stain on the credibility of Asean’ and said the dire situation in the country would be an obstacle to building an Asean Community by 2015. It also urged Thailand to refrain from making any plans to repatriate Burmese refugees who currently are seeking refuge in Thailand.

‘Asean should rather consider suspending Myanmar (Burma) from the organization over its flagrant violations of the Asean charter. We call on Asean to show greater courage in its approach to Myanmar and to make use of this summit to fully address the situation in Myanmar especially in the context of the severe and systematic violations of human rights that continue in this country’.

The statement also urged Asean member countries to support the UN-proposed Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma, saying that it would be ‘a step towards ensuring that this region will no longer tolerate impunity and violations of human rights and to press upon Myanmar the need for tangible steps towards inclusive democracy in the country’.

According to Agence France Press, the Burmese government is preparing to grant an amnesty to some prisoners, but it was unclear it would include political prisoners.

‘Some prisoners will be released around the time of the president’s first state visit’, said an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, AFP reported.

Observers expect President Thein Sein to attend the summit in Indonesia this week. A release of political prisoners could be an attempt to cultivate a more favourable international image.

According to the Burmese state-backed newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, Burma’s union defence minister, Hla Min, welcomed the deputy defence minister of Indonesia, Lieutenant-General Syafrie Syamsoeddin, to his office in Naypyitaw on Tuesday. There was no information on what was discussed.

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