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UN Special Rapporteur on Burma remarks on ASEAN’s 43rd anniversary

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The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar recently visited Jakarta on the occasion of ASEAN’s 43rd anniversary. In a speech he delivered at a meeting organized jointly by the by Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), South East Asia People’s Center (SEAPC) and FORUM-ASIA, he underlined the crucial role of ASEAN in the democratization of the country.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar said in a speech that the world has waited with full of hope upon the process of the general election in Myanmar this year.

Mr  Tomas Ojea Quintana made these remarks during a meeting marking ASEAN’s 43rd anniversary. The gathering in Jakarta was organized jointly by the by Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), South East Asia People’s Center (SEAPC) and FORUM-ASIA and attended by civil society groups and diplomats from ASEAN countries and outside ASEAN.

Referring to his report to the UN Human Rights Council last March 2010, Mr. Quintana mentioned that with regards to the human rights situation, free and credible elections in Burma (known officially as Myanmar) required three elements: release of all political prisoners, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, participation of all ethnic nationalities, and the
guarantee of the basic freedoms of expression and assembly.

The special rapporteur emphasized need for regime’s accountability on human rights violations, including punishing the perpetrators and giving reparations to victims.

Moreover he mentioned, that ASEAN plays an an important role, especially through the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), to support the continuing process in Myanmar and to guarantee that those rights are respected and protected.

In the same meeting, Rafendi Djamin, HRWG director said that Myanmar can learn from Indonesia’s prior experience in political transition from authoritarian regime to the more democratic regime. Myanmar can learn from the successful and unsuccessful stories of Indonesia in conducting general election and seek accountability from the human rights

SEAPC manager Atnike Nova Sigiro meanwhile also shared her hope that on its anniversary, ASEAN could also bring positive effect towards human rights situation in Myanmar. She said that previously unimaginable changes within ASEAN have now become realities, change in Myanmar is also possible.


The full text of the Speech of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar for the 43rd anniversary of ASEAN:

Jakarta, 10 August 2010

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for allowing me to address you on the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of the establishment of ASEAN.  I would like to thank the South East Asia People’s Center, the Human Rights Working Group, and FORUM-ASIA, for inviting me here and for organizing this forum.

I congratulate the Association of South East Asian Nations on this anniversary, an anniversary that has seen this important regional body go through some major landmarks.  In December 2008 the ASEAN Charter came into force.  In October 2009 ASEAN launched the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights.  This year ASEAN launched the ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children.  The target date for an ASEAN Community is 2015.  The establishment of AICHR, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, has been a particularly significant step for ASEAN in its commitment to build a more people oriented ASEAN Community.  AICHR’s mandate to promote and protect human rights is an extremely important one.

As you know, I am the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.  The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva appointed me to this position, and I began this mandate in May 2008.  In this capacity, I do not represent my country, Argentina.  I am appointed as an independent expert.  My job is to report regularly to the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly on the human rights situation in Myanmar.  The Government of Myanmar is regularly asked to cooperate with me by the UN through resolutions by both of these bodies.  Since I began my mandate, I have visited Myanmar at the invitation of the Government three times.  In order to report to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, I gather information not only through these country visits but also by hearing from all stakeholders.  One of these stakeholders is ASEAN.

During the recent ASEAN meeting in Hanoi, I noted Myanmar’s regional partners keen interest in the upcoming national elections in Myanmar, the first in over 20 years.  A number of foreign ministers made statements about their hope to see credible elections that are participatory and transparent in Myanmar.  In Thailand last week, I met with the Foreign Minister.  The Foreign Minister emphasized to me that the position of Myanmar’s ASEAN neighbors was clear:  these elections must be credible, they must be free and fair.  Credibility means the release of all political prisoners.  A credible election process in Myanmar would be part and parcel of the future of ASEAN as a whole.

Indeed, ASEAN has already started engaging with Myanmar.  Following the catastrophic Cyclone Nargis, ASEAN along with the United Nations and the Government of Myanmar formed the Tripartite Core Group to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the affected areas.  This was an important cooperation and an example of the kind of positive and active intervention that ASEAN can undertake.

It has been ten months since AICHR, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, has been launched.  Since that time, AICHR has done much preparatory work.  On July 19th, the foreign ministers of ASEAN approved AICHR’s workplan.

As AICHR is the overarching framework for cooperation on human rights in ASEAN, I believe AICHR members have the responsibility to positively impact on the process that Myanmar is going through.  At this juncture of the proposed transition in Myanmar with the first national elections in over 20 years anticipated, I wanted to reach out to AICHR to exchange ideas about how the international community can best support progress on human rights in Myanmar.  It is critical for the elections that the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly be respected.  It is critical that political prisoners be released.  All ethnic minorities should be allowed to fully participate.

It is in AICHR’s mandate to uphold international human rights standards as prescribed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and international human rights instruments to which ASEAN Member States are parties.  According to AICHR’s terms of reference, one of its functions is to obtain information from ASEAN Member States on the situation of human rights.  This is a potentially important tool to be used by AICHR to help improve human rights in Myanmar at this critical time.

Again, according to the terms of reference, it is the purpose of AICHR to enhance regional cooperation with a view to complementing national and international efforts on the promotion and protection of human rights.  Both regional and international actors need to cooperate.  For this reason, I have asked the Chair of AICHR for a meeting in order to discuss how we can work together.  I am also intending to meet with various representatives of AICHR for the same purpose.

The people of Myanmar deserve a true opportunity to improve the condition of their lives.  It is the responsibility of the international community, but particularly ASEAN, to assist the people of Myanmar in realizing their fundamental human rights.

Thank you for you attention.