Interestingly enough, ASEAN will proceed in creating a human rights commission to improve its standing in the international community, despite initial objections by Burmese diplomats. The Irrawaddy reports that:
A diplomat involved in negotiations on the issue said lower-level officials finished a draft of the charter on Sunday with a reference that Burma did not accept the commission, leaving it to foreign ministers to resolve the issue at their annual meeting Monday.
Apparently, Burma’s foreign minister Nyan Win agreed to such a creation. This is very interesting, considering Burma has denied any human rights abuses within the country, while respectable sources like the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International paint a more sordid picture, reporting on Burma’s use of forced labor, torture in prisons, rape of ethnic minorities, political imprisonment, and infringement of basic rights.
According to the Associated Press, all of ASEAN member countries’ foreign ministers agreed on forming a human rights commission in the new charter that ASEAN plans to adopt soon at its annual summit in Singapore. Although some have advised ASEAN to include protocol in expelling members for failure to comply, the new charter will not contain such matters. Asia Times states: “Already it seems the junta is in denial about the new charter’s actual commitments,” explaining that the Burmese government’s official newspaper The New Light of Myanmar quoted a Burmese delegate at the ASEAN meeting saying “The meeting chairman explained … the charter would not feature human rights and the discussions would not focus on matters on termination of charter member countries.”
Burma’s main worry is interference of other countries in the region in its “internal affairs.” I hardly doubt that the exodus of thousands of refugees to bordering countries like Thailand and Malaysia make Burma’s issues, particularly in the human rights area, domestic. Also, Burma has so far failed to deliver its promises to ASEAN of creating a parliamentary democracy (it is still on step 1 of its roadmap to democracy) and its record does not indicate that the Burmese government will honestly comply to the human rights commission’s goals, especially if there is no punishment.
Lastly, the official ASEAN website published a joint communique, including the following:
While recognizing the steps taken by the Myanmar Government to release the leader of the NLD, we continue to express concern on the detention of all political detainees and reiterate our calls for their early release.
At least there is a gesture of concern.