22 November 2011

Statement on ASEAN’s decision to grant Burma the chair in 2014

FIDH endorses this statement by the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma), Burma Partnership and the SAPA Task Force on ASEAN and Burma

22 November 2011

We call for ASEAN to keep its options open on reversing its decision on Burma’s chairing the regional bloc if the military-led government back-slides on promises concerning human rights and democracy.

The decision made last week to grant Burma the 2014 chair is premature as the authorities have failed to fulfil key promises of reform. The decision might even embolden them to continue committing human rights abuses with total impunity.

We are extremely disappointed that ASEAN did not use the unique opportunity it had to influence the Thein Sein’s government to take meaningful steps towards democratic transition, peace, and national reconciliation. ASEAN’s decision to deliberately ignore the new war in Kachin state and escalation of military attacks in eastern Burma this year, is a betrayal of its international and regional obligations to the wellbeing of ASEAN citizens.

We consider ASEAN’s decision to be an indication of the bloc’s de facto acceptance of the regime’s continued violations of human rights, which include rape of women and girls, extrajudicial killings, torture, forced displacement, and forced labour, without any accountability for the perpetrators or justice for the victims.

ASEAN’s founding Bangkok Declaration commits member states “to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law […] and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter.”

Instead of promoting regional peace, Burma’s military-led government threatens regional stability.

Human rights violations and atrocities in Northeastern Burma have significantly increased since President Thein Sein came to power. Between August 2010 and July 2011, Thein Sein’s government forced at least 112,000 people, the highest estimate in a decade, to flee their homes in Eastern Burma. In addition, over 20,000 fled their homes as a result of the Burma Army offensives in Kachin State and Northern Shan State. Civilians continued to flee Burma, with the number of refugees living in refugee camps in Thailand increasing from 145,713 to 148,908 during the same period.

The economic mismanagement of the country continues with deeply entrenched corruption, a manipulated exchange rate and runaway inflation, making the population more vulnerable to transnational crime and trafficking within ASEAN’s region.

Narcotics production and trafficking continues to run rampant throughout Burma, with the regime actively supporting the illicit industry. Burma is the second largest producer of opium in the world. In some areas of Shan State under the control of the military-led government, the opium cultivation has increased by 78.58% within the last two years creating a greater threat to the security of neighbouring states.

Since taking office in March, Thein Sein’s government has embarked on a series of largely cosmetic changes aimed at gaining international legitimacy and winning over ASEAN member states.

We are saddened that ASEAN interpreted the minor concessions made by Thein Sein to be genuine, when a few days before ASEAN’s decision, the regime’s Information Minister, Kyaw Hsan, denied the existence of political prisoners in Burma and that violations of human rights in ethnic nationalities’ areas ever occurred. In addition, the regime still hasn’t released over 1,600 political prisoners, despite its promises to do so. The Parliament refuses to repeal oppressive laws that facilitated the imprisonment of several thousand political prisoners and adopted new restrictive laws that disenfranchise many activists convicted in the past.

ASEAN must be prepared to face the national and regional consequences of its premature decision, including increased displacement, undocumented migration and drug production that result from its ill-timed decision to grant Burma the 2014 chair. A public statement from ASEAN that it is prepared to review its decision if there is no significant improvement towards democratic transition, peace, and national reconciliation is urgently needed to ensure that the military-led government does not regard the 2014 chair as a blank cheque to continue abusing its people.

Signed by:


Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma

All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress (AASYC)

All Student and Youth Congress of Burma (SYCB)

All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)

Arakan Human Rights and Development organization (ADHR)

Arakan Rivers Network (ARN)

Asian Centre for Human Rights

Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples

Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia)

Asian Indigenous Women’s Network

Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)

Boat People SOS (BPSOS)

Burma Centre Delhi

Burma Partnership

Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)-Asia

Children Human Rights Foundation of Indonesia

Community Action Network – ICMICA Malaysia

Dignity International

Focus on the Global South

Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB)

Highland Peoples Task-Force

Human Rights Defenders-Pilipinas

Human Right Education Institute of Burma (HREIB)

Human Security Alliance

Indonesian’s Women Coalition for Justice and Democracy


INHURED International

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)


Lawyers for Liberty

Maukkh Education Magazine and public house

Migrant CARE

Migrant Forum Asia


National Commission for Justice and Peace

Positive Change for Cambodia

SAPA Working Group on ASEAN

South Asia Forum for Human Rights

Southeast Asia Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (SEASUCS)

Student and Youth Congress of Burma

Taiwan Association for Human Rights

Taiwan Free Burma Network

Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education)


Thai Committee for Refugees Foundation

The Fahamu Refugee Programme

The National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)

Women’s League of Burma

Worker Hub For Change (WH4C)

Youth Action Nepal


Anoop Sukumaran

Aung Marm Oo

Aurora Regalado

Harrison Cheng

Jose Maria Dimaandal

Nyi Nyi Aung

Purnomo S. Pringgodigdo

Sammy Gamboa

Wa Wa Kyaw

William Nicholas Gomes
Last Update 22 November 2011
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