The new military-backed namesake civilian government of Burma faces a no-win situation to acquire ASEAN’s backing for the 2014 chairmanship. If ASEAN acknowledged Burma as chairman of the group, it would definitely dishonor the name of the regional association. Burma, under the former military junta, missed its turn as chair of ASEAN in 2006 because of strong international objections led by Western countries.

In August 2004, activists in ASEAN countries launched an international campaign calling for Burma to be disqualified from chairing the regional bloc in 2006, saying it would affects the grouping’s credibility and reputation.

At that time, a delegation led by Dr Gothom Ariya, the then secretary-general of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia) presented Thai Foreign Ministry officials an open letter with signatures by organizations from the region, East Asia, Europe and North America. Copies of the letter addressed to respective ASEAN governments were delivered by a group of activists to member-nation embassies in Bangkok.

Senior diplomats of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are likely to think about international opinion when they decide on whether to allow Burma to chair the regional grouping in 2014.

“We live, interact, synergize and benefit from our relationship with the (rest of the) world. Certainly we will be open to hear their sentiments,” Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN secretary-general, told reporters Jakarta on July 13, according to Ria Rose Uro (

He emphasized that “ASEAN is where it is (today) because of the goodwill of dialogue partners.”

The secretary-general is attending ministerial meetings which will run from July 15 to 23. Consideration of the matter is with the foreign ministers meeting (FMM).

Earlier, Indonesian parliamentarian Eva Kusuma Sundari, president of the ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Caucus on Myanmar (AIPMC), warned about the potential backlash from Western governments should Burma (Myanmar) take over ASEAN’s chairmanship.

Sundari said that based on their interactions with government officials in Australia, the United States (US) and the European Union (EU), the would-be impact “will not be good for ASEAN as a whole.”

“You cannot help it. These governments still look at Aung San Suu Kyi as the icon of democracy in Myanmar,” she stressed.

However, the most important point to put into consideration for Burma is no other than its human rights record.

Human Rights Watch pointed out in its May 6 statement that Burma has failed to address concerns repeatedly raised by ASEAN leaders in past summits.

“Rewarding Burma with ASEAN’s chairmanship after it staged sham elections and still holds 2,000 political prisoners would be an embarrassment for the region,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) released a press statement on June 21 denouncing the Burmese government’s armed forces for using rape as a weapon of war in the northern Burma offensive. According to the press release, at least 18 women and girls were gang raped by Burmese soldiers; four of whom were killed after being raped. The soldiers killed three girls and raped a woman in front of her husband, who was then forced to work for them. In frontline areas, Burmese soldiers are committing crimes freely as there are no effective or appropriate penalties in place by senior authorities.

A press release was released on July 14 by the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) condemning Burma Army of using rape as a war weapon. The Burma Army is clearly authorizing rape as a terror policy in its offensive against the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), according to information documented by SWAN and SHRF.

In such a situation, ASEAN must think very cautiously about accepting Burma as chair in 2014. It will be better for ASEAN to support a UN-led ‘Commission of Inquiry’ into longstanding allegations of violations of international, humanitarian and human rights law in Burma. –Zin Linn,