Monday, 25 March 2013

Asean ignores Yangon abuse

Opinion > Opinion

Asean ignores Yangon abuse

There were two responses last week to the new communal violence in Myanmar. The Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) said it will meet in May to strengthen existing mechanisms and introduce new ones. The non-governmental Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemned the Myanmar government for declaring a state of emergency in the Mandalay region and sending in the army.

And if anyone thinks Asean is beclouding murderous human rights violations in Myanmar now, just wait until Myanmar itself takes the chair of Asean next year.
The Asean stonewall on continuing riots and deaths in Myanmar is hardly surprising. The group itself was nearly ecstatic in self-indulgent pride last November. That was when the summit at Phnom Penh produced "a landmark document that establishes a framework for human rights cooperation".

It was notable at the time that not a single outsider - not NGOs, not the media, not even the United Nations - spoke positively or optimistically of that declaration. The universal scepticism, sadly, has proved to be correct.

In its first four months, the Asean human rights declaration has made clear what the group means by "human rights cooperation". A blanket of stifling cooperation has descended over human rights throughout Asean. From 10 governments and the Asean secretary-general's office, the cooperation has been total.

Unanimous cooperation has produced a total blackout on Myanmar. There has not been a condemnation, a report, a meeting, a study. A committee has not been set up; an investigation has not been launched.
All this shows the full cooperation on Myanmar. For example, there was the interactive dialogue in Geneva two weeks ago between the AHRC and the UNCHR. Thailand, a member of the UN Human Rights Council, took the lead, with an impressive presentation. It put Myanmar on a pedestal as a nation advancing to democracy. The only thing missing were words such as "riots", "communal violence", "Rohingya" and "government-sponsored human rights abuses".
Sure enough, last week, new communal violence broke out in the Mandalay area. The government, as always, minimised the problem, admitting 11 people died. Witnesses reported dozens of deaths, scores of injuries and hundreds of smouldering ruins of businesses and homes.

The Asean cover-up of such destruction is out of date, out of time and out of decency. Silence in the name of non-interference only highlights the failures of Asean and the responsibility of Myanmar, where the government actually has exacerbated abuses.

The government encouraged anti-Rohingya protests in December. Asean citizens know Myanmar has a racist policy towards Rohingya, and that it is used by extremists to rail against Rohingya and Muslims. A centrepiece of last week's communal riots in the Mandalay region was the burning of a mosque.
The NGOs' criticism of Myanmar's constant use of the army in every emergency was well taken. After all, President Thein Sein is trying to lose the country's reputation as a military fiefdom.
But the larger point is the Asean silence on homicidal violence against minorities. The AICHR's pretence that a smokescreen will shield news and consequences of the human rights situation is not just misguided. It is an affront to Asean goals and the claims made last year that the group intends to get serious about human rights in the region.

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