UNION OF MYANMAR: Open letters to ASEAN countries from Amnesty International Japan on the human rights agendas in Myanmar (Burma)

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  4. UNION OF MYANMAR: Open letters to ASEAN countries from Amnesty International Japan on the human rights agendas in Myanmar (Burma)
9 Jul 2010
[Japan Section]
His Excellency Mr. NGUYEN Phu Binh
Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam in Japan

July 8, 2010

Your Excellency,
I would like to take this opportunity to write to you, a representative of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, a member state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
As you know, later this year elections will be held in Myanmar for the first time in two decades, under a new Constitution which grants impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations. The outcome of this political process may prove critical to Myanmar’s future―and to the standing of ASEAN. If 2010 is to be meaningful for the people of Myanmar, human rights need to be urgently protected throughout the election period. In this regard, ASEAN, with its Charter and newly-established human rights mechanisms, has a key role to play.

At its 16th summit in Ha Noi in April, ASEAN emphasized the importance for the Myanmar elections to be held in a “free, fair and inclusive manner”. However, the Myanmar government has not yet taken any steps to improve their poor human rights record.

More than 2,200 political prisoners continue to languish behind bars in Myanmar. This doubles the number of political prisoners since the start of the mass peaceful anti-government protests of August - September 2007―a huge indictment of the grim human rights situation.

Under Electoral Laws enacted in March, no political prisoner can take part in the elections, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. These laws also list a number of offences and penalties, including―a blatant violation of freedom of expression―a vaguely worded provision against "exhorting" persons to vote or not to vote in the elections.

Moreover, in a 21 June directive issued by the Union Election Commission, political parties are prohibited from campaigning activities that “harm security, the rule of law and community peace”. These regulations allow for an excessively broad interpretation by the authorities of what constitutes a threat to “security”. For decades the authorities have routinely used vaguely worded laws to arbitrarily criminalise peaceful political dissent.

Amnesty International is therefore very concerned that activists, especially those from ethnic minorities and the National League for Democracy, which is boycotting the elections, may come under increased repression as the polls approach.

These restrictions combine to deny the people of Myanmar the “three freedoms”, that is, the human rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. It is therefore simply not enough for other governments to adopt a “wait and see” attitude.

Human rights, including the “three freedoms”, must be safeguarded for all, whether people choose to participate in the elections or boycott them.

On the eve of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Ha Noi, I therefore urge your government to work with other ASEAN states to uphold the binding principles of the ASEAN charter, for “respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and social justice”. To this end, the Myanmar government must be pressed to:

• Release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience arrested solely on the basis of their peaceful political activity, ethnicity, or religion and;
• Ensure that all people in Myanmar can enjoy the “three freedoms” of expression, peaceful assembly, and association throughout the elections period and beyond.

In addition, the member states should mark the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting by encouraging the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to obtain information from Myanmar on the promotion and protection of these human rights, and to prepare a study on the thematic issues of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, in accordance with Articles 4.10 and 4.12 of the AICHR’s Terms of Reference, respectively. Similarly, the ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) should be encouraged to advocate on behalf of women and children in Myanmar, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, including members of ethnic minorities, under Article 5.4 of its Terms of Reference.

Failure to address these urgent challenges will damage ASEAN’s international credibility. It is therefore crucial that ASEAN seizes this opportunity to work towards the realisation of long overdue human rights improvements in Myanmar, which will benefit the standing of ASEAN.

I hope your government will do your utmost for the “three freedoms”, and human rights in general, in Myanmar during this critical year for the future of the country and of ASEAN.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours faithfully,

Makoto Teranaka
Amnesty International Japan

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