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Open Letter to Indonesian Government as the Chair of ASEAN, on gross human rights violations in Burma/Myanmar

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19 October 2011


His Excellency Dr. R.M. Marty M. Natalegawa

Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Republic of Indonesia

Your Excellency,

We, members of the Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA, a network of Asian civil society organisations engaged intergovernmental processes at the sub-regional, regional and international level, working on various issues of public interest), write to you today, in view of the fact that Indonesia is currently serving as the Chair of ASEAN, to share our continued concern about gross human rights violations in Burma/Myanmar ahead of your mission to the country on 26 October 2011.

SAPA notes that there have been some limited positive developments in Burma/Myanmar. However, we would like to emphasize that these are very far from being satisfactory. The reality is that serious and systematic human rights violations continue to take place in Burma/Myanmar, and those who commit them continue to enjoy impunity.

We welcome the recent decision of the Government of Burma/Myanmar to release 220 prisoners of conscience. However, we note with concern that an estimated eighteen hundred political prisoners remain behind bars in Burma/Myanmar, including well-known political activists such as Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gy, Min Zeya, Hatay Kywe, Ni Lar and ethnic leaders such as U Khun Tun Oo.  ASEAN must continue to urge the unconditional and immediate release of all individuals imprisoned solely for peaceful political activities and monitor this process closely.

The Government of Burma/Myanmar must open space for its citizens to freely exercise their fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, which are essential components for a solid and vibrant democratic society. All domestic laws must be reviewed with a view toward guaranteeing these and other human rights, including by assuring free and independent media as Indonesia recommended to the Government of Burma/Myanmar during its UPR Working Group Session. The recently established National Human Rights Commission for promoting and protecting human rights in Burma/Myanmar must be independent and effective in compliance with the Paris Principles. ASEAN must ensure that respect for and protect of human rights forms an integral part of the reform package that must accompany the release of all prisoners of conscience.

Moreover, we regret that the Government of Burma/Myanmar has failed to show a genuine willingness to reach peaceful reconciliation with ethnic groups through meaningful dialogue. We are further alarmed that in many ethnic areas, bombing attacks still persist and tensions between the Government and ethnic ceasefire groups are on the rise, which has intensified the suffering of civilians.  As part of its military campaign in ethnic areas, the Burma Army has directly targeted civilians for rape, torture and forced displacement. ASEAN must stay firm in demanding that the Government of Burma/Myanmar immediately reach a nationwide ceasefire with the ethnic groups. This ceasefire should be followed by a genuine process of national reconciliation that is broad based and includes the participation of all ethnic groups, the National League for Democracy and other opposition parties.

Democratic transition in Burma/Myanmar will remain an exercise in cosmetics if the release of a token number of prisoners overshadows the fact that an estimated eighteen hundred people remain behind bars because of their political activity, conflicts with ethnic groups  continue, and even escalate, rather than being replaced  by ceasefires, dialogue and reconciliation, and the repressive laws in Burma/Myanmar remain in force and used by the Government to prevent its people from expressing their genuine will and self-determination.

The SAPA urges Indonesia as the Chair of ASEAN to uphold the principles of democracy and human rights found in the ASEAN Charter, which are legally binding on all member states, and adopt the following benchmarks for assessing whether the Government of Burma/Myanmar is ready to assume the Chair of the ASEAN in 2014 during your mission to Burma/Myanmar:

  1. The Government of Burma/Myanmar must immediately and unconditionally release all persons imprisoned solely for their peaceful political activity;
  2. The Government of Burma/Myanmar must immediately declare countrywide ceasefires with all ethnic groups;
  3. The Government of Burma/Myanmar must announce a concrete plan and timeline for a national reconciliation process that will involve genuine and participatory dialogue between the ruling parties, the opposition, especially the National League for Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all ethnic nationalities;
  4. The Government of Burma/Myanmar must review all domestic laws with a view to guaranteeing respect for fundamental human rights, a functioning democracy with adequate checks and balances and separation of powers; and,
  5. The Government of Burma/Myanmar must take concrete efforts to ensure that the National Human Rights Commission is properly constituted, sufficiently empowered and resourced and is truly independent in full compliance with the Paris Principles.


Sincerely yours,

SAPA Steering Committee Members:

  • Mr. Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director, FORUM-ASIA
  • Mr. Gopal Krishna Siwakoti, Deputy Chair, Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network
  • Mr. William Gois, Regional Coordinator, Migrant Forum in Asia
  • Ms. Consuelo Katrina Lopa, Regional Coordinator, South East Asian Committee for Advocacy
  • Mr. Augusto N. Miclat, Executive Director, Initiatives for International Dialogue
  • Ms. Jenina Joy Chavez, Senior Associate and Philippines Programme Coordinator, FOCUS on the Global South
  • Ms. Joanne Carling, Secretary General, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact



H.R.H. Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam

H.E. Mr. Hor Namhong, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Kingdom of Cambodia

H.E Dr. Thongloun Sisoulith, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

H.E. Dato’ Sri Anifah Hj. Aman, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia

H.E. U Wunna Maung Lwin, Union Minister of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Union of Myanmar

H.E. Alberto G. Romulo, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines

H.E. K Shanmugam, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Law of Singapore

H.E. Surapong Tovichakchaikul, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Thailand

H.E. Pham Binh Minh, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam

H.E. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN

H.E. Rafendi Djamin, Chairperson of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)