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Signing of the ASEAN Charter Set to Become a Tragic Farce

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The signing of the ASEAN Charter in November threatens to become nothing more than a tragic farce unless ASEAN’s leaders start to propose concrete action to help prevent a human rights catastrophe from occurring within Burma.

The timeliness of yesterday’s scheduled meeting in New York of ASEAN’s foreign ministers with the drafters of ASEAN’s Charter can hardly be overstated.  As ASEAN’s elites continue to talk amongst themselves over the possible inclusion of reference to human rights and a human rights mechanism in the upcoming Charter, it is left largely to governments outside of South East Asia to propose concrete action to prevent a potential human rights catastrophe unfolding within its member country of Burma.

The 13th ASEAN Summit on 21 November 2007 threatens to become nothing more than a tragic farce, as ASEAN’s leaders plan the grand signing of a Charter for ASEAN which they have long touted as a means of keeping ASEAN relevant, and making good on their vision of a “community of caring societies”.1 

In ASEAN’s landmark 1997ASEAN Vision 2020, leaders jointly declared that, “We envision our nations being governed with the consent and greater participation of the people with its focus on the welfare and dignity of the human person and the good of the community.”2

No situation could highlight more clearly how far ASEAN stands from achieving this vision.  With people in Burma being beaten and arrested as they peacefully protest against a military dictatorship that shows disdain for their welfare and dignity, ASEAN appears powerless to act.
With the potential for change seemingly hanging in the balance, the people of Burma, the people of ASEAN, and the wider international community demand more than just words from ASEAN member states.  With the economic support and opportunities provided by ASEAN member states helping the Generals to build up an army capable of suppressing the will of the Burmese people, ASEAN has a responsibility to act, even if this threatens to harm their short-term economic interests.      

More specifically, FORUM-ASIA urges ASEAN to:

  • Consider the use of individual and collective economic sanctions if the Generals continue to use violence against peaceful demonstrators, and fail to engage in peaceful negotiation.
  • Increase pressure on China to influence the course of events in Burma through the diplomatic channels of communication that have been established through the ASEAN+3 grouping (ASEAN + China, Japan and South Korea), urging China to:
    • Bring the Burmese Generals to engage in peaceful negotiation with demonstrators and pro-democracy leaders;
    • Not block proposed courses of action by the UN Security Council.
  • Liaise with the international community while in New York to coordinate activities, including the visit of the Special Envoy to the Secretary General Ibrahim Gambari, to ensure that the human rights of the Burmese people are respected and protected. 
  • Use all other diplomatic means at their disposal to place pressure on the Burmese junta to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and to initiate peaceful dialogue.
  • Continue to issue individual and joint public statements urging the military junta to respect the human rights of their own people.

ASEAN must act now to prevent further bloodshed and injustice, and to help place Burma on a path towards reconciliation, democracy and respect for human rights.  As ASEAN celebrates its 40th anniversary and prepares to sign its Charter, it can afford to do no less.   


Anselmo Lee
Executive Director

For more information, please contact Anselmo Lee, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA, at [email protected]; or Daniel Collinge, Consultant on ASEAN Advocacy, at [email protected] 

1 ASEAN Vision 2020 (1997), available on the official website of ASEAN Secretariat at:
2 Ibid.