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AIPMC to Asean leaders: Burma elections are a farce

The following is an open letter from The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) to ASEAN Leaders, calling on the leaders to support a UN Commission of Inquiry into international crimes in Myanmar, and urges ASEAN not to support next weekend’s general election in Myanmar.

Mr Charles Chong, Singapore Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, is one of the AIPMC’s  vice presidents.

The people of Myanmar, or Burma, go to the polls this Sunday, 7 November.

Your Excellencies,

The 17th ASEAN Summit has concluded, and, as elected representatives of the peoples of ASEAN, we are disappointed by its outcome and by your passivity in the face of this weekend’s election in Myanmar.

The election is about to be conducted under a new constitution, enacted in 2008, which was drafted by an assembly whose members were handpicked by the country’s current ruling military regime and conducted without open and inclusive input from the people of Myanmar. The constitution is designed to assure the continued dominance of the military regime under the guise of a democratically elected civilian government, notably reserving one-quarter of seats in parliament for the military.

Additionally, five electoral laws and four decrees promulgated earlier this year violate democratic principles by restricting current political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other key leaders of the country’s democracy and ethnic movement, from participating in the polls.

In light of this, Myanmar’s general election can in no way be acknowledged as conforming to internationally accepted standards of freedom and fairness. They are a farce and a non-election for the country’s people. Your hopes that Myanmar will open up the process and create conditions conducive to free and fair elections less than a week before they are due to take place are therefore misguided.

During your deliberations in Hanoi, you also failed to take into account the continued detention of more than 2,200 political prisoners, ongoing armed conflicts, tensions and abuses in ethnic nationality areas and the absence of dialogue between all stakeholders in Myanmar’s political process. As we have already stated to you, we do not believe that elections under oppression can bring peace. Instead, they are a route to increasing violence and growing instability.

As members of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), we urge you not to support Myanmar’s upcoming election, nor should you accept or acknowledge in any way as legitimate the results of this election.

As a signatory to the ASEAN Charter, Myanmar has agreed to support and uphold certain principles, including adherence to the principles of democracy and constitutional government and the promotion and protection of human rights. Myanmar is clearly failing to uphold the principles to which it agreed when signing the Charter.

ASEAN should no longer let itself be fooled. All the evidence suggests the 2010 election will simply entrench military rule with a civilian face. Instead of pinning any hopes on this election, we urge you to support an international call for a Commission of Inquiry under UN auspices to look into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Myanmar and to work for the establishment of such a commission of inquiry at this moment and not after the holding of elections that do not meet international standards.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made public the U.S. government’s commitment to seek accountability for the human rights violations that have occurred in Myanmar. Her call for action on 28 October, 2010 in Hawaii marks a commitment by the U.S. to move from rhetoric to action towards addressing gross and systematic violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Myanmar. In this, she is already joined by more than 12 governments worldwide who have publicly voiced their support for such a commission of inquiry in Myanmar.

We now expect you to act. We urge you to support the EU annual Myanmar resolution at the United Nations General Assembly, which is currently in session in New York, and to be among the nations committed to the establishment of an international commission of inquiry in Myanmar.

It is sometimes said that such a commission of inquiry could be counterproductive and derail the process of peaceful democratization in Myanmar. This is a false dichotomy.

We could not agree more with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, who recently stated to the UN General Assembly that “failing to act on accountability in Myanmar will embolden the perpetrators of international crimes and further postpone long-overdue justice”.

It is time to reconsider the notion of ASEAN solidarity. Solidarity - brotherhood and sisterhood – cannot be built on a foundation of repression and harsh human rights violations. ASEAN solidarity should be for the people of Myanmar whose fate lies in the hands of a brutal military regime. ASEAN’s tolerance of the brutality of the regime and the regime’s manipulation of ASEAN’s principle of solidarity sets a bad precedence for efforts to ensure ASEAN accountability to human rights principles and standards.

We urge you to heed the call of the UN Special Rapporteur to act. Justice and democracy go together. There can be no democracy in Myanmar without an end to abuses and impunity.

Sincerely yours,

Kraisak Choonhavan
President, ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus
Fully endorsed by all AIPMC national chapters, in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

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Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Nick Clegg, highlights Burma as a key priority for the Asia Europe Meeting.

Writing in the International Herald Tribune, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described today's Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) as an opportunity to speak with "with one voice against the gross mistreatment of the Burmese people".

03 October 2010

"We are now a month away from the first elections in Burma in 20 years. That should give us cause to celebrate. Sadly, that is wishful thinking. Burma’s 55 million people continue to suffer brutal oppression. Abject, needless poverty is, for most, a daily reality. These elections will be little more than a sham to perpetuate military rule.

So when Asian and European leaders meet today in Brussels, the UK will be calling for us to speak with one voice against the gross mistreatment of the Burmese people.

That means being unequivocal: these elections will be neither free nor fair. Opponents of the ruling party lack resources and are systematically targeted by the current regime. Thousands of political prisoners remain incarcerated. Various ethnic parties have been refused the right to stand. Last month the military dissolved the National League for Democracy – its biggest perceived theat.

The situation is little better for those parties which are being allowed to participate. The regime they oppose has passed deeply unfair election laws and runs the election commission. In Burma all media is heavily censored by the state.

So the election result is a foregone conclusion. Under the constitution a quarter of seats are already reserved for the military. In half of the remaining seats parties loyal to the regime will run uncontested, their opponents unable to field a candidate. The regime is therefore guaranteed a substantial majority – before a single vote is even cast.

The consequence for Burma is the return to power of a ruling elite that has presided over widespread human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, rape and torture. That same regime has been guilty of profound economic mismanagement and corruption. While they routinely blame sanctions for weak development, the truth is that they have squandered Burma’s natural resources and export opportunities. The country’s infant mortality rate is now amongst the highest in Asia.

These failings are undeniable. Yet some are tempted to overlook the deep flaws in the upcoming election. Clearly, it would be more convenient for the international community to quietly agree that any election is better than no election. Burma would recede in the mind, allowing us to “move on”. That is attractive for nations who insist we should not interfere in each others’ affairs. And the West could not be accused, as it sometimes is, of attempting to recreate the world in its own image.

These are not reasons to ignore the truth. The EU has already made it clear that sanctions – targeted at the regime and its sources of revenue  – will not be lifted until genuine progress is made on the ground. We must now work with our Asian partners, using our collective clout, to push for that progress. ASEM members account for nearly 60% of the global population – and the same proportion of global trade. Burma’s military regime should know that, until it satisfies international demands, it will meet the same disapproval whether it looks East or West.

Not only is that our shared moral duty, but it is in our strategic self--interest too. Without a process of national reconciliation in Burma, the risk of instability is real. Ethnic ceasefires look increasingly fragile. A return to conflict would have devastating humanitarian consequences, undermining regional security and leading to further refugee flows into neighbouring countries and beyond.

So we must continue to exert pressure on the regime to engage all opposition and ethnic groups in a meaningful dialogue. The objective must be a fair settlement that gives ethnic groups a political voice and protects their minority rights. All prisoners of conscience – including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi – must be released without delay. Reconciliation must be geared towards the social and economic development that has long evaded the Burmese state.

This week is an opportunity for Asian and European nations to reaffirm that message. Military men must know that swapping their uniforms for suits will not change the demands of the international community. We will not be pacified by a democratic facade. Our expectations will not drop."