ASEAN must not allow Myanmar military junta to again indulge in “One step forward, two three steps backward” tactics

The United Nations Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar Sergio Pinheiro is now in Burma surveying the human rights situation in the country, and according to reports, visited the infamous Insein jail outside Yangon.

Last week, the United Nations Secretary-General’s special advisor on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari made his second visit to the country after the crackdown of the “saffron revolution” in September.

What is shocking and outrageous is up to now, neither ASEAN nor the international community know what was the death toll and how many people were detained in the junta’s bloody suppression of the pro-democracy “saffron revolution”.

The Myanmar military junta claims 10 people died and only 91 of the 3,000 originally detained were being held.

Nobody believes these figures — as the death toll from the “saffron revolution” is believed to be in scores if not in hundreds. Monks have reported that at least five of their brethren were killed. Amnesty International has estimated that 700 people arrested over the September protests are still in detention.

Although the Myanmar military junta has recently shown a more accommodating face, as in permitting Aung San Suu Kyi, who had spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest, to meet key members of her National League for Democracy (NLD), the question is whether the Myanmar military junta is indulging in its favourite tactics of “one step forward, two three steps backwards” as part of its long-standing diversionary tactics to deflect international criticism and maintain its grip on power.

The Myanmese military junta resorted to such tactics of “one step forward, two three steps backwards” in 2005 when Tan Sri Razali Ismail was the UN envoy for Burma, when he seemed to making progress in brokering talks between Suu Kyi and the generals.

Razali was very optimistic that Burma was finally embarking on the process of democratization and national reconciliation. When I asked him at the time the timeline he was looking at, Razali said he expected the process of democratization and national reconciliation to reach a climax in 2006, with general election to be held in Myanmar.

These hopes have all proved to be completely illusory.

Gambari’s recent return to Myanmar has evoked mixed feelings, as in this commentary from an expert Burma analyst and observer, Larry Jagan:

Privately, however, UN officials admit his visit was anything but a success. Gambari remained a virtual prisoner in the new Myanmar capital Naypyitaw, situated 400 kilometers north of the previous capital Yangon. He spent only a few hours in Yangon, from where he entered and exited the country. “The regime kept him there because they feared his presence in [Yangon] might spark fresh protests,” a Bangkok-based diplomat who covers Myanmar said.

To add insult to injury, Gambari met very few members of the government – and notably none of its top leaders. “Than Shwe did not want to see Gambari and used his usual delaying tactic – using low-ranking ministers as shields to avoid meeting him,” said Win Min, the academic.

Members of the Malaysian Parliamentary Caucus and the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) have met with Gambri and Pinheiro to discuss the Myanmar situation, and we do not want to see a replay of the Myanmar military junta’s diversionary tactics of “One step forward, two three steps backwards”.

The 13th ASEAN Summit in Singapore next week where the ASEAN Charter is to be signed must provide a mechanism to ensure that there is no backsliding of the democratization and national reconciliation process by the Myanmar military junta.

ASEAN nations, together with international community must not allow Myanmar military junta to again indulge in “one step forwards, two three steps backwards” tactics to deflect international pressures for democratization in Burma, or the option of targeted sanctions of the Myanmar generals must be considered.

I call on the Singapore ASEAN Summit next week to give “teeth” to the ASEAN Charter by appointing a Human Rights Rapporteur or Monitor to ensure that ASEAN member nations and in particular Myanmar respect the human rights commitments enunciated in the ASEAN Charter.

The ASEAN nations, working with China, India, the European Union and other important players of the international community, should put pressure on the Myanmar military junta to immediately release the over 1,000 political prisoners in Burma, especially Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi should be officially invited to the next major ASEAN meeting to discuss the important issue of democratization and national reconciliation in Burma.

(Speech in Parliament on the Foreign Ministry during the 2008 Budget committee stage debate on Tuesday, 13th November 2007:

  1. #1 by motai on Tuesday, 13 November 2007 - 2:00 pm

    If we do not hang together we will all hang separately.
    — Benjamin Franklin

  2. #2 by a-malaysian on Tuesday, 13 November 2007 - 2:27 pm

    (Speech in Parliament on the Foreign Ministry during the 2008 Budget committee stage debate on Tuesday, 23th November 2007:

    YB Kit,

    Is the date correct?

    50 years is ENOUGH
    Vote For A Change
    Vote For Any Opposition
    Give Them A Chance To Change For A Better Malaysia
    Remember bn Is A Useless Grouping Of Self Serving, Corrupt, Dictator, Power Crazy, Racist, Kris waving, etc, etc type of parties.

    [Thanks for your hawk-eye. Corrected. – kit]

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 13 November 2007 - 3:39 pm

    “//….the option of targeted sanctions of the Myanmar generals must be considered…// – YB Kit

    However host of next ASEAN summit Singapore has already, as far as I know, argued against sanctions by ASEAN on 3 grounds:-

    First, sanctions would be ineffective against a country already “predisposed toward isolationism”.

    Second, if by force of sanctions the military junta were deposed, Myanmar might collapse into sectarian violence and civil war like Yugoslavia or an Iraq. The common feature of all 3 countries is the diversity of ethnic groups, armed and hostile to one another in each.

    Third, it is moot whether Asean has that much economic leverage to exert pressure on the Junta.

    How do we evaluate these?

    Of the 3 reasons, the first seems plausible.

    The second is questionable because economic sanctions are like tightening the noose tighter and tighter – not the same as at outright invasion of foreign forces with its attendant fallout as in cases of Yugoslavia or an Iraq.

    Regarding the third reason, the most significant ASEAN trade partner is Thailand. Based on 2004 figures, volume of Thailand’s imports from Myanmar totaled US$1.2 billion while exports to Myanmar about US600 million. By now maybe an increase of another 40%?

    Coming close in her heels is Singapore, whose trade with Myanmar last year amounted to 1 billion Singapore dollars, or $684 million, just 0.1 percent of the city-state’s total trade. (This does not take into account the monies deposited by Myanmar’s investors counting amongst whom are the generals, families and cronies in S’pore financial system).

    In the case of Malaysia bilateral trade with Myanmar for the first half (April-September) of 2006-07 reached 90.01 million US dollars, with Myanmar’s import from Malaysia registering USD 52.6 million dollars and its export to Malaysia USD 37.41 million dollars.

    Petronas, currently pump gas from fields off Myanmar’s coast in the form of upstream activities [Yetagun Gas Project (Blocks M-12, M-13, M-14 and Taninthayi Pipeline Co LLC which operates a cross-border pipeline transporting gas from the Yetagun field to Thailand] in partnership with Nippon Oil,Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTTEP) and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

    So are the above sufficient for economic leverage in relation to the third reason?

    Besides, pulling Petronas out has to come as a Malaysian government’s initiative (as shareholder). The counter argument is always that Petronas will be held in breach of agreements with its partners and customers. The other argument is that far from solving Myanmar’s problems, a forced withdrawal of Petronas would only lead to our replacement by other operators probably less committed to the democratic principles ostensibly guiding our initiatives within ASEAN. And the last argument is that sanctions will hit local citizenry rather than the military general.

  4. #4 by Filibuster on Tuesday, 13 November 2007 - 3:41 pm

    Sorry for sounding so sceptical, but the suggestion will probably not hold any water with the other ASEAN countries, as quite a number already violate human rights (according to Amnesty International, among other Human Rights watchdogs), either with actions taken by the ruling government of that particular country, laws, or by other means. I understand your concern that the situation in Burma/Myanmar is dire, and that no one knows how bad the country has suffered (due to an effective blackout operations by the Burmese Government), but the problem is that people won’t approve of a wide ranging law that may affect themselves. The most it will go to is probably some slap on the wrist… rather than something that would be effective.

  5. #5 by undergrad2 on Tuesday, 13 November 2007 - 8:18 pm

    “The ASEAN nations, working with China, India, the European Union …should put pressure..” KIT

    How could a disparate group of nation states struggling, with their own demons if you will, put pressure on any other group??

  6. #6 by undergrad2 on Tuesday, 13 November 2007 - 8:27 pm

    “…Petronas will be held in breach of agreements with its partners (and). …far from solving Myanmar’s problems, a forced withdrawal of Petronas would only lead to our replacement by other operators …” Jeffrey

    The triumph of political expediency and strong vested economic interests over ideals. This is always the case. The rest is rhetoric.

  7. #7 by undergrad2 on Tuesday, 13 November 2007 - 8:38 pm

    The United States the policeman of the world, the beacon of the shining light of democracy, has once again abandoned a whole nation of impoverished people terrorized by its own corrupt leaders. Listen to the U.S. Congressmen – some apparently fuming and I might add foaming at the mouth – threatening that should harm come to Aung San Su Kyi, the U.S. will hold those responsible personally. One went as far as to say that they will be tracked and hunted down and their assets frozen. This is all nice to listen.

    We know the difference between action and rhetoric.

  8. #8 by DarkHorse on Wednesday, 14 November 2007 - 6:35 am

    Is there oil as opposed to LNG in Myanmar?

  9. #9 by motai on Wednesday, 14 November 2007 - 2:18 pm

    Malaysia lives under state of emergency – EU envoy
    Tue Nov 13, 2007 6:32pm IST By Mark Bendeich

    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia is living under an effective state of emergency, an EU envoy said on Tuesday, after police used tear gas and water cannon at the weekend to break up the biggest anti-government protest in a decade.

    “Today, this country still lives under emergency,” the European Commission’s envoy to Malaysia, Thierry Rommel, told Reuters by telephone on the last day of his mission to Malaysia.

    Rommel’s remarks, extraordinarily blunt for a diplomat, chime with a chorus of criticism from opposition parties and some non-government groups about the way the government handled the protest, which it called an illegal assembly of troublemakers.

    Police had set up road blocks around the capital to prevent protesters converging on Kuala Lumpur for Saturday’s rally, but despite these measures and heavy rain, around 10,000 people thronged the city centre to call for electoral reform.

    Police later moved in with tear gas and water cannons, which fired jets of water laced with a chemical irritant, to break up the crowd. There were no reports of any serious violence.

    Rommel, who has spent four and a half years in Malaysia, said many Malaysians felt that their voices were not being heard and agreed that the electoral system should be reformed.

    “It’s not a secret that elections are not fair,” he said, noting complaints from electoral reform group Bersih, organiser of Saturday’s protest, that election campaigns were too short and that the media was biased toward government campaigning.

    “There’s a significant part of the population that feels their voice is not really heard because of the way elections are managed,” he added. “They feel locked out.”

    The Belgian noted that several emergency-style laws were still in use, such as the Emergency Ordinance, born in 1969 to deal with race riots, and the colonial-era Internal Security Act (ISA). Both allow detention for years without trial.

    None of these powers were used to quell Saturday’s protest, and the ISA has not been used against opposition politicians and activists for several years. But the chief minister of central Pahang state, a member of the main ruling party, has said the ISA should be used if necessary to deal with future protests.

    “They (emergency laws) all very clearly establish the legal framework for the executive to take measures in cases of unrest — as the executive defines them,” Rommel said.


    Rommel, a career diplomat, is not new to controversy in Malaysia. He created a storm in June when he gave a speech likening Malaysia’s affirmative-action policy to a trade barrier.

    That remark brought a swift backlash and formal protest from the government. The trade minister even complained publicly that Rommel had an attitude problem, and his name started to disappear from the government’s invitation lists.

    But Rommel, who spoke to Reuters on condition that his comments be published after his departure later on Tuesday, said he was unrepentant about his criticisms and denied he was trying to superimpose Western values onto Malaysia.

    He said Malaysia’s “Bumiputra” policy of affirmative action, which favours majority ethnic Malays, distorted trade because it allowed the government to award state contracts to Malay businesses without clear, competitive tender procedures.

    It also fostered corruption, he added.

    “The extension of Bumiputra-based discrimination and preference in public procurement — which is massive in the Malaysian economy — has worked to the disadvantage of foreign players in particular and has become a vehicle for officially acknowledged corruption…,” Rommel said.

    “It is public knowledge that local Malay vested interests, with powerful political or administration connections, want to see this mechanism maintained.”

You must be logged in to post a comment.