Archive for July 2007

ASEAN Charter and Burma’s Democratic Agenda

July 29, 2007

On 30th of July to 2nd of August 2007, Foreign Ministers from the ten ASEAN Member Countries and partner nations of ASEAN will meet for the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) and related annual programmes at Manila, in the Republic of Philippines amid call given by the “Free Burma Coalition” to organize a rally near the venue of the ASEAN meetings for the freedom of Nobel peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi[i], incarcerated by ruling military junta in Burma. According to the press release of ASEAN Secretariat of 23rd July 2007, the scheduled 40th AMM meeting intends to discuss various areas of cooperation among ASEAN Countries and its partner nations, including the progress on the Drafting of the much expected ASEAN Charter by the High Level Task Force (HLTF) of ASEAN.[ii] For the world community and Burmese people, the proposed 40th AMM is important compared with previous ones, as it also plans to incorporate certain democratic values, freedom, peace and dignity to human life in ASEAN through ASEAN Charter pledged in Kuala Lumpur declaration of 12 December 2005. The world has great expectations from ASEAN, through its proposed charter, apart from United Nations. Even the Head of ASEAN, Secretary-General, Mr. Ong Keng Yong has high hopes as he spoke recently on 24th July 2007, that, “the group’s first charter of standards set to be released next week will pressure military ruled Burma to improve its human rights record.”[iii]  Even few hours back, according to the ABC Radio Australia News, the regional bloc has once again called on the Military Junta in Burma to free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and urged Burma to accelerate the process and roadmap to democracy.

Beyond ASEAN Charter: 

However, Mr. Secretary-General would have not forgotten, that, apart from fortcoming charter, earlier ASEAN had taken number of proposals expressed in the joint communiqué of the 36th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) held at Phnom Penh, 16-17 June 2003, joint communiqué of the 37th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) held at Jakarta, 29-30 June 2004, Chairman’s Press Statement of the 9th ASEAN Summit and Press briefings of the Chairman of the 11th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) spoken at Jakarta on 2nd of July 2004 related with Burma’s genuine democratic agenda including the call made by many ASEAN leaders to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from detention. Interestingly, the Joint Communiqué of the 36th ASEAN Ministerial meeting, June 2003 clearly urges Burma’s military rulers, “to resume its efforts of national reconciliation and ‘dialogue among all parties concerned’ leading to a peaceful transition to democracy.” It also wrongly believed the words of military rulers of Burma that, measures of restriction on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and winner of May 1990 election – National League for Democracy Party (NLD) were of temporary in nature in the announced 36th AMM press release.[iv] Once again in 37th AMM, Asean leaders, “underlined the need for the involvement of all strata of Burmese society in the on-going National Convention, including the role of Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in assisting Burma to achieve this goal as well as emphasizing the continued relevance of the joint communiqué of the 36th AMM and the Chairman’s Press Statement of the 9th ASEAN Summit.”[v]  

Moreover, Burma’s military rulers’ known as State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has little regards for the earlier resolution of ASEAN ministerial meeting and international institutions like UN Secretary-General’s office and UN, continued with raping international law in keeping Daw Suu Kyi under house arrest and organizing final National Convention (NC) to draft proposed constitution from 18th of July 2007 without including all groups and NLD. Although the statement given by Philippines Foreign Minister, Alberto Romula before the 40th AMM on 27th of July 2007 to make Southeast Asia free from Nuclear Weapons and prioritize to see the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi[vi] is a welcome step like earlier statement given by the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirayuda in November 2006. Earlier Indonesian leader Djoko Susilo (Member of the House of Representative of Indonesia, DPR) had already expressed his strong opinion that, “it is time for the Indonesian government to take firm action against the Burmese military junta government to uphold democracy and respect human rights.”[vii] Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry Parliamentary Secretary – Ahmad Shabery Cheek has also expressed in April 2007 that, “Malaysia and other ASEAN members had made a stand not to defend Burma,”[viii] and probably Thailand, Singapore, India and Japan would also not forget its earlier commitments made for all inclusive democratic process in Burma including release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 40th AMM and other partners meeting.  

Road Ahead for ASEAN Charter: 

Whether the proposed ASEAN Charter emerged from the Kuala Lumpur declaration of 12th December 2005 would be able to redeem its original pledge of “Promotion of democracy, human rights and obligations, transparency and good governance and strengthening democratic institutions,”[ix] has yet to be seen in near future. Although, the charter prepared by much deliberation of Eminent Person Group consisting of Dr. Aun Porn Moniroth (Kingdom of Cambodia), Nguyen Manh Cam (Socialist Republic of Viet Nam), Professor S. Jayakumar (Republic of Singapore), Ali Alatas (Republic of Indonesia), Tun Musa Hitam (Chairman, Malaysia), Fidel V. Ramos (Republic of the Philippines), Khamphan Simmalavong (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), M.R. Kasemsamosorn S. Kasemsri (Kingdom of Thailand), Dr. Than Nyun (Union of Myanmar), and Pehin Dato Lim Jock Seng (Brunei Darussalam) proposes in its recommendation to  include – “ASEAN’s commitment to democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, including international humanitarian law, as an indispensable condition for the stability, peace and development of the region,” in its preamble as basic principles and objectives.[x]  

It is important for ASEAN leaders to see that, whether ASEAN Charter remains a paper agenda at 40th AMM or it also achieves its objectivity of practical realization of ASEAN vision of making one ASEAN Community as envisaged in the Declaration of ASEAN Concord II (2003) and its plans of action, the Vientiane Action Programme (2004-2010), as well as the Vision 2020 (1997).

However, the number of atrocities committed by Burma’s military regime on peaceful non-violent protestors tells the other story of military Burma’s vision of ASEAN Charter and difficult road ahead. Apart from prolong detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the recent sentence of Burma’s non-violent human rights defender – Myint Naing, by Judge Aung Min Hein in the Henzeda township court for eight years in prison together with five other fellow village people for four years on 24th July 2007, few days before forthcoming 40th AMM shows real face of seven-step roadmap of democracy in Burma. It is appalling to note that, Myint Naing also known as Myint Hlaing together with other fellow persons were attacked and seriously wounded on April 18 during non-violent protest at Oakpon village in Henzeda by a military government-backed group- Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).[xi]   

The much hyped proposed ASEAN charter has still long road to go, to fulfill its true objective of genuine democracy with many other HLTF meetings in second half of 2007. In September 10th to 11th, the Ninth Meeting of the High Level Task Force (HLTF) on the Drafting of the ASEAN Charter will take place at Luang Prabang, Lao PDR, on 2-3 October 2007, the Tenth Meeting of the High Level Task Force on the Drafting of the ASEAN Charter will take place at Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on 5-6 November 2007, Second Meeting between the High Level Task Force (HLTF) on the Drafting of the ASEAN Charter and Senior Officials Attending the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Coordination Conference (SOC-COM 2) will take place at ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta, and finally the last final meeting of the High Level Task Force on the Drafting of the ASEAN Charter will take place on 7-8 November 2007 at Singapore before being finally adopted at 13th ASEAN Summit in Singapore.[xii]  

12th ASEAN Summit and Burma: 

How far Burma’s military rulers would be successful in scuttling democratic and human rights agenda in ASEAN Charter would depend on the political will of other ASEAN leaders including its partner nations? Whether Philippines President and Chairperson of the 12th ASEAN Summit  statement of 13th January 2007 at Cebu, entitled, “One Caring and Sharing Community”, for ASEAN to release those placed under detention and for effective dialogue with all parties concerned in Burma,” really finds echo in future ASEAN meetings is yet to be seen together with agreed – “need to preserve ASEAN’s credibility as an effective regional organization by demonstrating a capacity to manage important issues within the region.”[xiii]  ASEAN charter which envisages for ASEAN as – “People-Centered Organisation”[xiv] would really achieve people’s freedom in Burma or allow Burma to incarcerate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for further more years despite 12th ASEAN Summit Chairperson’s appeal is acid test for ASEAN’S credibility as harbinger of economic growth and freedom in Asia to fulfill vision of “One Asia” and “One ASEAN” in coming days.   

(The End)  



[i] Komfie Manalo, Philippines to deport foreigners participating in Street Actions during ASEAN Meet, AHN News, AHN Media Corp., 26 July 2007.

 [ii] ASEAN Bulletin, 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting to take place in Manila, the Philippines, 30 July-2 August 2007, July 2007, Posted on 23rd July 2007, ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta, Indonesia.

[iii] ASEAN Head Says New Charter Will Put Pressure on Burma, VOA News, USA, 24th July 2007.

[iv] Excerpts from the Joint Communiqué of the 36th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta, Indonesia, June 2003.

[v] Joint Communiqué of the 37th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, under the section – Political Cooperation No. 15, ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta, Indonesia, June 2004.

[vi] ASEAN should remain nuke free, ASKK should be freed: Philippines FM, Mizzima News, New Delhi, 27 July 2007.

[vii] Time for Indonesia to Take Firm Action against Myanmar, ANTARA News, Indonesia, 25 January 2006.

[viii] ASEAN Will Not Defend Myanmar At Int’l For a – Ahmad Shabery, Bernama News Agency News, 20 April 2007.

[ix] Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of the ASEAN Charter, ASEAN Secretariat Document, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2005.

[x] Report of the Eminent Persons Group on the ASEAN Charter, ASEAN Secretariat Document, Jakarta, Indonesia, December 2006, p.25. 

[xi] Grant Pack, Myanmar Human Rights Defender Jailed,, The New York Times Company, 25 July 2007.

[xii] ASEAN Calendar of Meetings & EventsSep07, October 07, November 07, ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta.

[xiii] Chairperson’s Statement of the 12th ASEAN Summit H.E. the President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Cebu, Philippines, 13 January 2007, ASEAN Secretariat Document, Jakarta.

[xiv] Note No. 10, p.22.

(The End)