Burma: ASEAN Can’t Ignore Persecution of Religious Minorities
Olivia Enos /
As Burma assumes its role as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), its ability to credibly deal with serious human rights issues is in serious question.
Burma has come out with a statement that, under its chairmanship, ASEAN will not address concerns about the persecution of the Burmese Muslim minority Rohingya. The statement comes amid reports of a massacre of 10 Rohingya yesterday in the midst of Burma’s inaugural meeting as chair of an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting.
Recent positive governmental reforms have, in some ways, transformed Burma, but significant human rights abuses persist. Burma was originally passed over as host of ASEAN in 2006 due to concerns about the country’s development. But in 2014, the position of chair has passed from one government with a troubling human rights record (Cambodia) to another.
ASEAN has a record on human rights issues that is nothing to be proud of. Case in point is the the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration adopted in 2012. A broad array of regional and international human rights advocacy groups called the agreement “deplorable” for creating a lower standard of rights than the rest of the world.
With a flawed ASEAN framework in place and decades of inaction in the protection of its peoples’ basic freedoms, Burma comes to the chairmanship with a significant burden to address human rights concerns. Ongoing conflict between the Buddhist and Muslim population in Burma led to the declaration of a state of emergency in 2013, and ethnic conflict has displaced over 100,000 and led to many deaths.
The Rohingya have experienced acute persecution and are not considered citizens under Burmese law. This exempts them from legal protection and renders them vulnerable to abuse. Burma’s unwillingness to deal with these issues and refusal to address them reinforces ASEAN’s worst traditions.
It is imperative that the international community insist that Burma address its own ongoing human rights abuses during its run as chair of ASEAN. Doing so would further a dream of an ASEAN community that respects the rights of its people.