Jan 10, 2011

Indonesia puts the spotlight on human rights as ASEAN Chair

Jakarta – In its role chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, Indonesia says it will make human rights its top priority.
At a news event Friday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said his country hopes that during 2011, the ASEAN human rights commission will be more effective in fulfilling its mandate to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to respect the basic rights of human beings.
Putting the spotlight on human rights in ASEAN is major change from the past, says Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an analyst with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
ASEAN has been successful on issues such as promoting free trade and regional security matters, he says. But addressing contentious issues like human rights may be seen by some as a violation of ASEAN’s principle of not interfering in the internal affairs of it members.
“Members are happy to talk about it as long as it does not affect certain interests of their own countries,” Chachavalpongpun said. “But when it comes to tough issues like democracy and human rights we have to admit that not all countries in ASEAN are democratic.”
Among the 10 ASEAN states, Laos and Vietnam are one-party governments, led by the Communist Party. And human rights groups consider Burma’s military government among the world’s most repressive.
Last year’s election in Burma, also know as Myanmar, brought the issue of human rights within ASEAN to the forefront. Critics of the government say it stage-managed the vote to ensure the military remains in power.
Human rights organizations criticized ASEAN for not confronting Burma about the abuses there.
If Indonesia wants ASEAN to get serious about human rights, Chachavalpongpun says, it needs to abolish its principle of non-interference.
“I also think that maybe it is time for ASEAN to talk about some sort of punishment, maybe not to the point of expulsion [of member states]. There has to be some sort of compliance and what kind of punishment to be caused to certain members in the case that that member obviously do not comply,” Chachavalpongpun said.
Natalegawa says the situation in Burma last year did contribute to his country’s commitment to emphasize human rights in ASEAN. But he stopped short of recommending specific actions and said the situation there has improved since the election.
He noted, for instance, that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from detention after the vote.
“Of course, over the past several weeks there have been important developments in Myanmar. The elections are notable,” Natalegawa said. “But on top of that we have had the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. So all these two important developments must be digested, must be absorbed, for ASEAN to be able to think ahead. How we can insure the issue of Myanmar or development in Myanmar can have a sense of closure in 2011.”
Rather than punish offenders, Natalegawa says Indonesia intends to use quiet diplomacy and consensus building to persuade ASEAN members to respect human rights.

Jan 9, 2011

Inter Press Service via Nepali Times: The Lady speaks – Mon Mon Myat with Aung San Suu Kyi

Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi talks with Mon Mon Myat of the Mekong series/IPS Asia-Pacific
Six weeks after her release from house arrest, Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi talks about the prospects and difficulties of bringing about political change in Burma with Mon Mon Myat of the Mekong series/IPS Asia-Pacific.
Mon Mon Myat: Is the major force for democratic change inside the country, or is it international pressure?
Aung San Suu Kyi: I think force from inside is more important, but it doesn’t mean international actions are not important. I think there are more responsibilities for the inside force.
What is ASEAN’s role in pushing Burma for change?
The role of ASEAN might be important. In South Africa, all African neighbours supported the African people. That is why their movement developed quickly and effectively. In the Burma situation, it is not the same. We have faced difficulties in making progress with the movement. I think the support of regional governments and their pragmatic assistance are vital for us.
Many have said that political and economic ties with neighbouring countries cannot be excluded. Likewise, economic sanctions imposed by western countries created stronger economic ties between Burma and its neighbours. How can China or India help Burma?
They can do it if they really want to help us, but we can’t force them to do it. We need to make it happen. At the same time, we need to be friends with the whole world as we are related. What I think is that our giant neighbours like India and China respect stability in our country. They think that only a military government can sustain stability. We have to try to change their view. We need to make them understand that a democratic government elected by the people can become the government, which can also guarantee the country’s stability.
What is your opinion on development projects such as hydropower projects, gas pipeline projects or Asian highway trade route projects?
We don’t have any objection if those projects can develop the country or the region, but the government that rules this country has the responsibility to make it advantageous for the country. Some say that the Burmese people have not benefitted from foreign investment. To avoid this, the main responsibility remains with the government. If there is transparency, people will know what the advantages and disadvantages are, and they can make a decision. In some cases, we didn’t know how things happened, how agreements were made between countries, what major things were included in the agreements. I think people should be informed about those things. It is not only because of our belief in democracy; there would also be fewer mistakes if people knew things. International aid agencies have been providing humanitarian aid to Burma. There are also some civic groups that believe that if more people could be involved in community development work, this could initiate good governance without a change in government.
Is there any prospect that good governance can be practiced without a change in the government?
Let me compare this with the media situation. There is not much media freedom in Burma now but media space is getting wider to a certain extent as there are more journals and magazines. It is similar with the civic groups. As there are more civic groups now, some progress can be made to a certain extent in practicing transparency and accountability among those groups. Those groups have to try to make it happen. If journals and magazines only work or write following the guidelines (set by the censor board), there will be no progress but if they are trying to do better and develop media freedom, there will be more progress gradually. If they do nothing, then there will be no progress.
What would be your message to the international community, including the UN and aid agencies, and those who are ready to welcome the so-called new government?
Actually, it is no wonder that the international community and governments acknowledge the new government rather than welcome. They have acknowledged the military government as the de facto government. So there is no difference.
It is true that people in the country don’t think it is a change of government but in the outside world, they are preparing to repatriate Burmese refugees from the Thai-Burma border. How long do refugees and exiled political groups need to wait to return home?
I can’t say, as I’m not an astrologer. I want to do it as soon as possible. I don’t feel comfortable that our people are living in insecurity on foreign soil. It is a desire for those people to return home as soon as possible but the desire should not end as a wish. As I always say, do not just hope but work for it.
What do you want to say to those who doubt your non-violent revolution?
I think there are misunderstandings about the non-violent way. Some might think that non-violence means not doing anything and accepting whatever suppression (comes). It doesn’t mean that. Non-violence is a basic principle. Based on that principle, there are different ways. As I have often been asked this question, I have often answered using Gandhi ji’s saying:
“Non-violence requires more courage, more determination and it is harder than using a violent way.” Although it is harder, it can go further.
If we use the violent way, we might reach our goal quickly but there will be many wounds among the people and for the country. It will take a long time to cure those wounds. But if we use a non-violent way, it will take time to reach our goal but the country’s rehabilitation won’t take a long time. If we use the wrong way, we may miss our goal. When leaders of independent movements have become the government, they have often suppressed people more than colonial governments.
What message would you want to deliver to the countries in the region?
What I want to say to the countries in the region is that if Burma has stability, development and union, it will benefit the whole region. So we are the forces who are trying to have stability, development and unity in the country. Don’t consider us a stranger or an enemy. I would like to request them to please be in touch with us, work together with us and support us to build up our country.