Myanmar opposes investigative powers

The Associated Press (AP) reveals a worrying signal from Myanmar on the issue of the ASEAN human rights body.

Myanmar opposes investigative powers
By JIM GOMEZ – Jul 22, 2008

SINGAPORE (AP) — Myanmar’s junta has indicated it will oppose any effort to give a Southeast Asian human rights body the power to monitor or investigate rights violations in the region, diplomats said Tuesday.

A high-level panel of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations started work Monday to set up the rights body. The panel will lay down the body’s future makeup, role and powers, which will be presented to a summit of ASEAN leaders in December.

But in a closed-door session with the panel Monday, Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win said the human rights body should uphold ASEAN’s bedrock policy of noninterference in each other’s affairs, a diplomat present at the meeting told The Associated Press.

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.

Another diplomat who attended a separate meeting between all 10 ASEAN ministers and the panel also said Nyan Win made clear his opposition to the rights body having any monitoring authority.

Myanmar’s military government, which has been strongly criticized by Western governments and even fellow ASEAN members for its dismal human rights record, has used the bloc’s policy to parry any attempt by outsiders to intervene on behalf of human rights victims in the military-ruled nation.

It has already been decided that the rights body will not have the power to impose sanctions or seek prosecution of violators. But Myanmar’s objections, if honored, will make the body even less effective.

A majority of other ASEAN foreign ministers, led by Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, separately told the panel that the human rights body should at least be empowered to monitor violations and offer advice to prevent such problems, said the first diplomat.

Myanmar officials were not immediately available for comment but in the past they have said the human rights body should only serve as a “consultative mechanism” and that it should not “shame and blame” any ASEAN nation.

The rights body is being set up as part of ASEAN’s proposed new charter, which seeks to make the organization rule-based.

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said the charter will serve as a guide to the panel drafting the terms of reference for the rights body.

“They’re going to follow the charter very, very closely — its principle of promoting, upholding and protecting human rights,” Surin said.

The international community has condemned Myanmar’s junta for its refusal to restore democracy and release pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees. ASEAN has also been criticized for not doing enough to pressure Myanmar’s military leaders.

ASEAN foreign ministers, disappointed with the Myanmar junta’s foot-dragging on democracy, expressed “deep disappointment” in a statement Sunday at the junta’s May decision to extend Suu Kyi’s detention.

ASEAN’s members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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