ASEAN inaction is a disgrace

"While diplomats argue these points to arrive at a watered-down statement that everyone can sign off on, more pro-democracy protesters will die in Myanmar."

By some estimates, soldiers in Myanmar—a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)--have killed more than 700 protesters and bystanders in weeks of unrest since a military coup overthrew the nation’s elected leaders in February.

In the latest paroxysm of killing, military forces who are at war with their own people slaughtered 82 civilians in one day in the city of Bago. It was the biggest one-day total for a single city since March 14, when just over 100 people were killed in Yangon, the country’s biggest city.

The online news site Myanmar Now and other local media reported that soldiers had collected the bodies and dumped them on the grounds of a Buddhist pagoda.

Ahead of one large protest planned in late March, the military junta warned protesters on state television that they risked being shot in the head if they joined the street demonstrations. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group, in fact, says at least a quarter of those killed died from shots to the head, indicating that soldiers are shooting to kill.

Against the backdrop of mounting atrocities in one of its member-states, the ASEAN has been disgracefully muted in its response.

The Philippines, perhaps the most vocal among the ASEAN members, merely “called on Myanmar to adhere to principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter and the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, including the adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The ASEAN Charter specifically states that one of its purposes is “to strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, with due regard to the rights and responsibilities of the member states of ASEAN.”

These same principles are spelled out in Article 2, which lists “adherence to the rule of law, good governance,the principles of democracy and constitutional government” and “respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and the promotion of social justice.”

Clearly, the unelected military leaders in Myanmar have violated these principles in the ASEAN Charter and have not lived up to the obligations under the same document to effectively implement the provisions of the Charter and to comply with all obligations of membership.

The Charter also says that a serious breach or non-compliance will be referred to the ASEAN Summit, which meets twice a year. If experience is any indication, however, the summit meetings rarely take a strong stand on any issue, even one that unites many members, such as China’s aggression in the South China Sea.

Sadly the ASEAN Charter, with its emphasis on consensus and “respect for sovereignty” offers no penalties against erring member-states, whose leaders blatantly flout the organization’s principles. So, while diplomats argue these points to arrive at a watered-down statement that everyone can sign off on, more pro-democracy protesters will die in Myanmar. It is a disgrace.

Topics: Editorial , Association of Southeast Asian Nations , ASEAN , Myanmar , military coup , Assistance Association for Political Prisoners , AAPP , ASEAN Charter , ASEAN Human Rights Declaration
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