Alternative Asean Network on Burma
campaigns, advocacy and capacity-building for human rights
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14 July 2011


HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Brunei Darussalam

HE Mr. Hor Nam Hong
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Kingdom of Cambodia

HE Dr. R.M. Marty M. Natalegawa
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Indonesia

HE Dr. Thongloun Sisoulith
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lao People’s Democratic Republic

HE Dato’ Sri Anifah bin Haji Aman
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia

HE Mr. Albert del Rosario
Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines

HE Mr. Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Republic of Singapore

HE Mr. Kasit Piromya
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Thailand

HE Mr. Pham Gia Khiem
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam

Subject: Combat impunity and support a Commission of Inquiry into international crimes in Burma

Your Excellencies,

On the eve of the 44th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma) and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) strongly call on your government to support the creation of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into ongoing international crimes in Burma, as recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, Mr Tomás Ojea Quintana. Your urgent action towards this end is imperative to ensure the human rights aspirations enshrined in the ASEAN Charter are upheld.

Since early 2011, the government in Burma has renewed military offensives against ethnic nationalities, resulting in increased militarization, fighting, and displacement. Government soldiers continued to commit serious crimes with impunity, including the rape of women, the recruitment of child soldiers, and the killing of civilians. In June 2011, reports of sexual violence against women and girls by government soldiers in Kachin State have not been investigated despite numerous calls by Burmese civil society and the international community. These are grave violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which Burma, and the rest of ASEAN, are State parties.

The widespread use of rape and other forms of sexual violence against civilians in Burma, especially those belonging to ethnic nationalities, have been well documented over the last ten years by various United Nations agencies, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, and civil society organizations. The UN has raised the issue of rape and sexual violence in 12 resolutions since 2000. Between 1996 and 2006, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture received reports of 843 rape cases in Shan and Chin State.

It is our strong belief that the perpetuation of these crimes is largely encouraged by their full impunity. While the primary obligation to investigate serious crimes against civilians rests with States, and despite numerous calls on the Burmese authorities to do so, we have known too well and for too long that this obligation has been consistently ignored by the government in Burma. At the United Nations 2005 World Summit, heads of states recognized the failure to adequately respond to the most heinous crimes known to humankind, and made a commitment to protect populations from these crimes, affirming a responsibility to protect, when States where the crimes have been committed fail to do so.

In a joint statement at the ASEAN Summit in May 2011, your governments also emphasized the “need for ASEAN to pursue its purposes enshrined in the ASEAN Charter towards a resilient, people-oriented ASEAN Community in a global community of nations.” We respectfully remind you that one of ASEAN’s purposes stated in the Charter is to “strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

ASEAN must respect the words of its own Charter and act against impunity and serious international crimes in Burma. ASEAN will only be able to find a common voice on the global stage if it speaks out in defense of the rights of its most vulnerable citizens.

The 44th AMM presents ASEAN member states with a new chance to demonstrate their commitment to uphold human rights for all and address impunity in Burma by supporting and working for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry. A CoI would establish the facts surrounding allegations of international crimes, provide concrete recommendations on the protection of citizens’ rights and the rule of law, and contribute to genuine, inclusive reconciliation and transition towards democracy.

Failure to support accountability and combat impunity in Burma, on the other hand, will only erode and ruin ASEAN’s credibility and effectiveness as a central actor in the evolving regional architecture in South-East Asia. It is time for your government to show ASEAN is ready to be truly people-oriented and a worthy member in a global community of nations respectful of universal human rights.

Thank you very much for your consideration of our recommendation.

Sincerely yours,

Yap Swee Seng
Executive Director
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

Souhayr Belhassen
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Debbie Stothard,
Deputy Secretary-General, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Coordinator, Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma)