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Malaysian Parliamentary Caucus on Myanmar calls on Malaysian Government to take a more activist international position to push for democratisation in Myanmar, including a sanctions mechanism in the proposed new ASEAN Charter

Speech on the 2007 Supplementary Estimates          
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday) : At the end of March, a delegation of Members of Parliament from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore went to the Thai-Burma border to visit Mae La refugee camp and meet with some of those who have been forced to flee the abuses and the ravages of civil war in Burma.  

For more than fifty years, civil war has cast its dark shadow on this beautiful country. In the course of the past ten years, about 3,000 villages have been destroyed in eastern parts of the country and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee. Burma is now the third largest producer of refugees in the world, after Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Thailand has received the largest number of refugees and migrants from Burma. But an increasing number of Burmese are also coming to Malaysia. At the end of March, a seven year old girl, Dally, went missing in Cheras on the eve of the day she and her family were to leave for resettlement in the U.S.  

Malaysia and other governments in ASEAN must take responsibility for the protection of refugees from Burma. They share in the blame for having allowed the situation to drag on for so many decades.  

The Malaysian Parliamentary Caucus on Myanmar calls on the Malaysian government to ensure that the authorities act promptly in the murder of Dally and to adopt policies and practices that will ensure that future crimes, not only of this nature, towards unprotected refugee children do not recur.  

However, we all know that the root causes of the refugee and migration problems from Burma lies with the Burmese regime. If the junta does not stop its abuses, end the civil war and solves the country’s political and economic problems, refugees will continue to flee the country.  

If we are to provide lasting protection to the people of Burma, this tragedy cannot be allowed to continue. We call on the Malaysian government to plan an active role in order for ASEAN to take strong steps at a regional and international level to stop the abuses that are forcing people to flee their homes and that are splitting up families.  

In recent years, the international community has become increasingly aware of the atrocities committed by government soldiers against civilians in isolated parts of Karen State and other states in eastern parts of Burma. Only the Burmese regime remains in denial about the situation. On 27 March, Burma’s minister of information, Brigadier-general Kyaw Hsan denied that a war is taking place in Burma’s Karen State and that refugees are fleeing because of ongoing military operations. The testimonies of those ASEAN Members of Parliament who recently returned from Thailand prove otherwise.  

As citizens of ASEAN, we are proud to have a Nobel Peace laureate in our midst. Aung San Suu Kyi is not only the beloved leader of Burma’s population. She has the stature of a world leader and commands respect across the globe for her commitment to the struggle to change conditions in her native land. Aung San Suu Kyi has spent more than eleven years under house arrest in total since taking up leadership of the National League for Democracy, the main election-wining party in 1990.  

The regime’s despicable treatment of such an honourable citizen speaks louder than words. Burma is the only country in the world to keep a Nobel Peace laureate under detention. We urge the Malaysian government to step up its efforts to ensure improvements in her conditions of detention and her immediate and unconditional release as well as that of Burma’s other political prisoners.   

The road map initiated by the regime in 2003 and the constitution-drafting National Convention, due to wind up this year according to Burma’s foreign minister, continue to lack in inclusiveness and transparency. We have not been provided with a proper timetable for political reform. How long will it take for the regime to give space to Burma’s elected representatives to exercise their fundamental freedoms?  

ASEAN has been patient for far too long. The road map remains a sham and the Burmese military needs to change its ways. Only meaningful and genuine participation by the opposition in the political process will gradually take the country down a better path.  

After 40 years of existence, ASEAN has reached a critical turning point for its future existence. ASEAN is a regional organization that has made great advances in these forty years. But we have no assurance that ASEAN will remain the focal point of regional integration for the foreseeable future unless we are prepared to meet coming challenges. The coming ASEAN charter is key to ensure the continued relevance of the organization on the world arena.  

ASEAN is now in the process of codifying a common set of values and standards for this region, which include an attachment to democratic values, good governance, respect for the rule of law including international humanitarian law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, if the new charter is not going to have a single sanctions mechanism, how do we expect recalcitrant members to abide by the new charter?   

Burma, for one, is not living up to the standards that the region is setting for itself. Malaysia, as a leading member of ASEAN, cannot stand idly by and accept that a fellow member of the ASEAN club sticks to its old and stubborn ways.  ASEAN will continue to lack in international credibility unless Burma changes and unless we, as neighbours of Burma, are ready to play our part in taking responsibility for the well-being of the people of this country.  

What is our government doing? Far too little: We recognise that the Malaysian government has stepped up its efforts to promote political change, but Malaysia is still far too passive in regional and international arenas. By not speaking out in international arenas, Malaysia is effectively contributing in protecting the Burmese regime rather than its people.  

We are concerned that the recent vetoes against a draft resolution on Burma at the UN Security Council have effectively sent a signal to the regime that for the time being they are protected from too intimate scrutiny by the international community, and that this signal is making the Burmese regime less receptive to international demands for reform. Malaysia needs to stand up and tell the regime that this is far from being the case.  

Malaysia must continue to play an active role in regional efforts to change the situation in Burma and must support attempts to bring the situation in Burma to the attention of the Security Council.  

The onus is now on our region to demonstrate its commitment to the people of Burma.  With South Korea’s Ban Ki-Moon at the helm of the United Nations, the spotlight has turned to Asia’s efforts to improve conditions on our own continent. Unless we are able to change the situation in Burma, the shame brought upon all of us by the behaviour of the generals will continue to affect our standing in the international community. It will remain a stain on ASEAN and Asia’s position at the centre stage of the world’s attention in coming years. 

As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Malaysia is particularly well placed to take an active role in enabling the United Nations to embark on a more committed, forceful and  consistent approach to change the situation in Burma.  

I am disappointed to learn of the stand taken by the Malaysian government regarding the special procedures at the Human Rights Council, notably the country specific mechanisms. These are the cornerstone of the human rights work being carried out under the aegis of the United Nations. I am also deeply disappointed by the failure of the Malaysian government to support the annual resolutions on Burma at the UN General Assembly.  

Malaysia’s unhelpful position at the UN, in areas where it could have made a difference, will have a direct negative impact on the situation in Burma. International efforts to promote respect for fundamental human rights in Burma require the presence of the special rapporteur and the backing of country resolutions. The Malaysian government must work harder to ensure that the mandate of the UN Special rapporteur on human rights in Burma is retained. The people of Burma are paying a high price for the inaction of the international community. They cannot afford to wait any longer.   

But we all know that this is not going to be enough. The Burmese government has a record of not cooperating with the international community and for not complying with international demands for reform. Our own foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, was exposed to the misbehaviour of the regime when he visited Rangoon last year.  

The current UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Professor Paulo Pinheiro, has not had access to the country for the past three years. His term will expire in June. The regime must be held accountable for its lack of cooperation with the international community. Will the June deadline be allowed to expire without a concerted effort by the international community to push for access? Are Malaysia and ASEAN ready to stand by and let the regime get things its way? 

We are calling for a more people-centred ASEAN, and an ASEAN that is ready to meet non-traditional and trans-boundary challenges and crisis through regional and international cooperation. If we are serious about our call, we cannot shed our responsibilities for the welfare of the population of Burma.  

Malaysia and ASEAN cannot afford to step back from our responsibility in encouraging an end to the civil war, genuine political reform and respect for human rights in Burma. Malaysia must have the courage to tell Burma’s generals that they need to change their ways and their mindset. They have lost the confidence of their populations as well as that of the region and the international community at large. Only fundamental change will restore the trust and confidence needed for Burma to move forward.  


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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