FRIDAY, 30 MARCH 2012
Incensed Myanmar participants to the ASEAN People’s Forum in Phnom Penh here were forced to forgo Friday morning a scheduled presentation on their country’s current political and human rights situation because of restrictions imposed by the hotel where the event is being held, prompting suspicions that the Cambodian government had a hand in the incident.
The management of the Lucky Star Hotel threatened to cut off power and padlock the venue if organizers of the APF insisted on presenting the Myanmar situation and two other “questionable” activities – three workshops on land and another on whether Myanmar will be in a politically mature position to chair the regional bloc two years from now.
Cambodia is the current chair of ASEAN.
Khin Ohmar, coordinator of Burma Partnership, the group supposed to do the presentations, said it was difficult to believe the Cambodian government had nothing to do with the hotel’s prohibitions, although she added that the pressure may have originally emanated from the military-ruled government of Myanmar.
“I am sad to see that the Cambodian government is doing this as they claim that they will be able to finish the ASEAN declaration of human rights,” Ohmad said. “Basically, the basic freedom to expression is a human rights issue. But what happened just showed that the ASEAN government, including Cambodia, is not ready to commit to do what they claimed to be…”
“There is a possibility that the Burmese military rule has something to do with this. They have done this before and I would not be surprised if they are doing it again. But I am surprised that the Cambodian government will still comply or response to the pressure from the Burmese government. Why would they do that?” she said.
Filipina Consuelo Katrina Lopa, regional coordinator for the South East Asian Committee for Advocacy, said the gathering of civil-society groups at the APF has been facing all sorts of pressures from some ASEAN governments.
“All 30 delegates from Laos were picked up by their ambassador upon their arrival here and they were all transferred to the other APF,” she said, referring to the “APF” at the Chaktomuk Conference Hall, a government-owned facility overlooking the Mekong River.
She said the head of the Lao delegation chose to go home instead of attend the other forum, “which was obviously had the support of the government.”
“And now this pressure on Burma … grabe (it’s too much),” she added.
Ohmar said although there was still an opportunity for them to look for another venue to present their inputs, “we stopped because we are here to show our solidarity to the people of Cambodia.”
“Land is a huge issue. We are here in solidarity with the people. We are not here to appease the government. If they are not able to raise their voice, and they move out, why should be go on with our inputs?” she said.
The pressures on them, she said, show the ASEAN objective to “build a community” as nothing but a farce.
“To me, this is the same attitude common among ASEAN governments. They always want to be in top-down control of the people. I don’t know really what they mean when they say ‘building the community.’ You can’t have a community when you don’t have a space for them to freely express and practice their basic rights. We are the major stakeholders of the community. This is not a club of the elite people or of the government,” she said.
The cancelled workshops on land had to do with the expansion of mono-culture plantations in the region, the protection of indigenous and ethnic minorities’ rights to land and territory, and on land rights and eviction.
“Not only are we facing eviction from our land, we are now also being evicted from this civil society process,” said Seng Sokheng, member of the National Working Group of the Community Peace Building Network, of the cancelled presentations.
“We came here to join the ACSC/APF because we believed it was a space for us to explain our issues and share them with fellow civil society from the region. Cambodia has tarnished its image by evicting us like this,” Sokheng said.