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ASEAN bent on shrouding Myanmar's rights abuses

Sumber: THEJAKARTAPOST.COM | Tgl terbit: Sabtu, 23 Maret 2013

On March 11, an interactive dialogue took place at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, presenting the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana. Unsurprisingly, the member states of ASEAN continued to turn a blind eye to the grave concerns regarding human rights on the ground, citing the narrative of Myanmar's new progress.

In the lead-up to Myanmar's much-anticipated chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014, it is paramount that Myanmar's neighbors play a more substantive role in addressing the country's significant gaps in human rights protection.

The special rapporteur was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as an independent expert to monitor the human rights situation in Myanmar and to keep the international community informed of the developments in the country at annual interactive dialogues where he presents his report.

At this year's interactive dialogue, Thailand's statement on behalf of ASEAN emphasized the positive developments in Myanmar and highlighted some areas where progress had been made. However, ASEAN member states should have been much more concrete in identifying the gaps that needed to be addressed if they wish to strengthen the credibility of ASEAN's approach to human rights, which has been waning particularly since the adoption of the inadequate ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

First, maintaining silence in the name of "non-interference" becomes increasingly outdated as it is in total contradiction to the rhetoric of "cooperation" promoted primarily by Thailand and Indonesia at the UN. The position of the Philippines in March 2012 on Human Rights Council resolution "Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar" (A/HRC/19/21) in disassociating itself from the consensus approach was unhelpful and undermined entirely the cooperative spirit it claims to support.

ASEAN member states therefore should enhance its active role, particularly this year, in identifying human rights deficiencies and limitations in Myanmar and making concrete recommendations thereto at international multilateral forums.

Second, ASEAN member states must take a firm stance and encourage the government of Myanmar to deliver on its own promise of establishing a field office of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the country, within a concrete timeline. Such an office must have a full mandate for human rights protection and unhindered access throughout the country.

Supporting this initiative would be one important step toward ASEAN's wish to "encourage the government of Myanmar to continue to engage with and seek assistance from the international community".

Finally, it is of regional significance that the humanitarian crises in ethnic minority areas in Myanmar where armed conflicts persist be resolved in a sustainable and genuine manner. The interest of ASEAN member states to this end must be with a comprehensive and long-term view, which involves credible and independent expertise on transitional justice issues.

Among the 10 ASEAN member states, Indonesia has in particular promoted itself as a regional leader with regard to human rights, and has taken some interest in the human rights situation of Myanmar. Several high-level dialogues have taken place on Myanmar's human rights challenges between Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and other prominent persons from inside the country. He met Aung San Suu Kyi in 2011 during his visit to Nay Pyi Taw when ASEAN was deliberating Myanmar's bid to be the chair of ASEAN in 2014.

More recently in January this year, he met the Minister of Border Affairs of Myanmar, Lt. Gen. Thein Htay, regarding Indonesia's concerns over the communal violence in Rakhine state.

Concerns relating to the Rohingya were also voiced by Indonesia's delegation in Geneva during the interactive dialogue with Quintana, emphasizing that Myanmar's challenges need to be dealt with in an "open, transparent and democratic manner in accordance with international law" which also requires "an enabling and supportive regional and global atmosphere".

Indonesia and other ASEAN neighbors must fully understand that such a supportive regional and international approach cannot be made possible through the principle of "non-interference". As such, Indonesia must support this year's resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, which would extend the present mandate of the special rapporteur and enable comprehensive scrutiny of the situation on the ground.

As stated by Quintana during the interactive dialogue, "while the process of reform is continuing in the right direction, there are significant human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed".

The vital role of ASEAN states such as Indonesia in addition to Thailand and the Philippines, who also hold seats as members of the UN Human Rights Council, is key not only in encouraging the positive developments in Myanmar but also in addressing the gross and systematic human rights violations before they derail Myanmar's reform process. The ramifications of which would have a regional significance, including by undermining the ASEAN Charter.

The writer is executive director of the Kontras human rights group and a member of the executive committee of FORUM-ASIA, a membership-based regional human rights organization.

 



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