Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
ASEAN dance
Doin' the ASEAN dance. That's Burma over on the right.
Photo: Reuters / Tim Chong

any, including this writer were pleasantly surprised when, at the height of the Burmese regime's bloody crackdown and the world's revulsion with it, the ASEAN bloc of nations issued an unprecedented statement expressing its own "revulsion" at the killings. At long last perhaps, ASEAN was ready to reign in these brutes who have embarrassed them time and time again. The optimism was clearly misplaced.

Last Friday the UN human rights investigator, Sergio Paulo Pinheiro told reporters here that the international community must keep its focus on Burma.
“The international community is supposed to do this to honour these young people, those women, students, the monks that assumed an enormous risk in going to the street to fight for the freedom of assembly, the freedom of opinion,” Paulo Sergio Pinheiro told reporters in Bangkok following his five-day visit to Myanmar.
The community of which Burma is a member clearly doesn't see things that way -- with a few exceptions. Philippine Foreign Minister Alberto Romulo blew the whistle early on Burma's efforts to block UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari from making a presentation to the summit.
"We support Singapore in wanting Mr. Gambari to report to the EAS [East Asia Summit]," Romulo told reporters.

Another diplomat, who asked not to be named, said Burma could not do anything to stop Gambari because it was Singapore, as current chair of the ASEAN, which invited the UN official to the summit.

"Myanmar resisted Mr. Gambari’s scheduled briefing for EAS but it couldn’t do anything. It’s Singapore which invited the UN special envoy," he said...

"I’ve been asking after the ASEAN Charter is signed: what happens after that? Will they continue to string us along as they have done in the past 10 years?" Romulo asked.
The ASEAN charter is intended to "promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms." There is clearly a serious disconnect between this ideal, and one particular member which demonstrated its brutal contempt for it not two months ago.

Regardless, the Burmese delegation announced its intention to sign the charter, which has no enforcement mechanism for violators (just as the grouping has no mechanism for expelling criminal members). Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda expects Burma to comply with the charter it will sign.
"It must because it's a commitment and a legally binding commitment," he told reporters. "We can't prejudge efforts by all but we hope we can all be successful."

Thai Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram said compliance was an aim for all Asean members.

"That's what we aspire to do, that's why we are signing on," he said. "If all of us can accept the charter, then one expects compliance to that."
Aims and expectations, hope and aspirations. Sound a bit wishy-washy? While some member state leaders are standing on principle, like the Philippines' President Arroyo, how committed is the group as a whole?

They bowed to the pressure from Burma, and contrary to Mr. Romulo's earlier assertion, the dictatorship succeeded in scuttling Gambari's planned presentation at the invitation of host Singapore.
But on Monday, Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein voiced his objections to the briefing, and ASEAN leaders called it off at their informal dinner.

Thein Sein "made clear that the situation in Myanmar was a domestic Myanmar thing and that Myanmar was fully capable of handling the situation by itself," a sombre Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told a late-night press conference.
One must be sombre when announcing to the world that one has no spine. A most accommodating host you turned out to be, Mr. Lee. The Burmese Prime Minister, General Thein Sein certainly echoed his country's defence minister who last week told his ASEAN counterparts that "we are in control." Right. That's the crux of the problem.

The Bangkok Post put it bluntly: Asean kowtows to Rangoon:
Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein had been expected to face a grilling over the violence at the informal dinner meeting. But he instead walked away with a victory as the highly anticipated Gambari briefing was called off.

That left summit host Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with the task of trying to justify a 180-degree turnaround and diplomatic defeat to a sceptial (sic) press conference...

The diplomatic bungle overshadowed the annual Asean summit to be held today.
[My emphasis.]

Philippines President Arroyo delivered an unexpected ultimatum yesterday, saying that her country is unlikely to ratify the new ASEAN charter unless Burma restores democracy and frees Aung San Suu Kyi.
"The expectation of the Philippines is that if Myanmar signs the charter, it is committed to returning to the path of democracy and releasing Aung San Suu Kyi," Arroyo told her Myanmar counterpart, Lt. Gen. Thein Sein, during a one-on-one meeting in Singapore.

"Until the Philippine Congress sees that happen, it would have extreme difficulty in ratifying the .. charter," Arroyo said at the meeting, held before an ASEAN summit Tuesday.
In deference to the popular image of ASEAN as a do-nothing "talking shop," Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo admitted the charter would not have teeth, "but it will certainly have a tongue." All the better to lick you with, my dear.

Another item on the agenda in Singapore today is a blueprint for a common market across the ten countries (and more than half a billion people). A year ago, economic ministers signed on to a framework designed to establish a US-ASEAN free trade agreement. A US trade representative, meeting with the ministers yesterday, said there could be "no business as usual" with Burma in the mix. Under current conditions, free trade between the US and ASEAN is impossible in the near term.

Meanwhile, in the State of Fear known as Burma, six democracy lovers had their long prison sentences confirmed for the crime of attending May Day celebrations at the American Centre.
Six activists who were sentenced to between 20 and 28 years’ imprisonment each after attending May Day celebrations at the American Centre in Rangoon have had their appeal rejected...

The six men, Thurein Aung, Wai Linn, Nyi Nyi Zaw, Kyaw Kyaw, Kyaw Min and Myo Min, were each sentenced to between 20 and 28 years’ imprisonment in early September on charges of discrediting the government, violating immigration laws and engaging with unlawful organisations.
While one hand signs the glorious ASEAN human rights charter, the other hand slams the prison doors on people who associated with Americans (an "unlawful organisation"), thus "discrediting" the government. As if anyone could possibly discredit such a self-discredited regime.

And in Burma's music world, rapper G-Tone was arrested by police on Sunday night for showing his audience a Buddhist tattoo, causing fans to riot.
During a hip hop festival at Mya Yeik Nyo hotel at around 9pm, G-Tone took off his shirt and turned his back to the audience to reveal a tattoo of two hands clasped in a prayer position holding prayer beads...

As soon as G-Tone left the stage, he was arrested and handcuffed by the police, still in view of the crowd.

The rapper’s arrest provoked an angry reaction from the crowd, who started shouting at the police.

In response, the police went into the crowd and began beating up audience members, who were mostly young people and high school students, including 8th and 9th graders.

The incident grew into a riot as the audience became increasingly angry at the police.
Other popular hip-hop musicians were also beaten by the police. Even in a police state like Burma, it's quite remarkable that the symbols of the religious faith of nearly the entire population can be deemed subversive. Does this fall into any of the provisions of the ASEAN charter?


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