by Dwitiya Ghosh
Myanmar has reemerged on the world news headlines with its political troubles, which Prime Minister Thein Sein considers “domestic issues”. The Myanmar government’s violent suppression of pro-democratic protestors has been condemned by several countries, although no significant action has been taken against it. Myanmar is one of the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), one of whose goals is to “create a single market and production base which is stable, prosperous, highly competitive and economically integrated,” and since 1997, Myanmar has been the trouble child. ASEAN’s policy of non-interference in its member country’s domestic affairs has kept it at bay, and Myanmar has easily claimed its political issues as domestic ones and has walked away with the economic benefits of the organization without having to conform to its demands.
The ASEAN has not been able to put any sort of economic pressure on the Burmese government, and has flip-flopped on its position. For example, ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong has said, “We can't just say ASEAN will leave the Myanmar issue purely to Myanmar because our partners are now not letting us off the hook. They have postponed many of our ASEAN meetings with them…They have delayed our ASEAN negotiations on certain specific agreements because they cannot move their domestic opinion on Myanmar. So we have to come up with some plausible explanation to allow them to help us. I think in the coming months we need to talk to the Myanmar side to find a way out of all this.” Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong also said, “I think the important point here is that nobody disagrees with the Myanmar assertion that this is something of their own domestic affair. But beyond that, this has become an issue on the international stage...You may say that it is your own private issue, but people want to continue to intervene, so how do you respond? You cannot just absent yourself. We have to find a way to bring our friends to deal with this issue.” One of the signatories to the ASEAN constitution, which promised to promote personal freedoms, was Thein Sein, the prime minister of Myanmar and a representative of the military junta that in September killed democracy activists. On Sept. 27, the foreign ministers of ASEAN were saying how appalled they were to learn that the junta had been using automatic weapons to quell protests. Two months later, they have allowed a member of the same oppressive regime to swear allegiance alongside them “to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The fact is, the ASEAN’s words have no effect on the Burmese policies.
Myanmar has told ASEAN that it shall not be moved from its stance and that it will deal solely and directly with the United Nations. And now even the United Nations has condemned Myanmar for human rights violations. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says Burmese children are being recruited to fight armed conflicts despite agreements to protect children's rights. Ban acknowledged that "the government has shown increasing interest in addressing underage recruitment and has engaged the United Nations on the issue." He said the U.N. has received periodic updates since 2005 from Mynamar's Committee for the Prevention of Recruiting Underaged Children from Military Recruitment. He also criticized the government for denying U.N. official access to areas where guerrilla groups operate, leaving investigators unable to verify the most recent reports of children in their ranks. Therefore, it is evident that Myanmar is unafraid of any economic pressures from ASEAN or the UN, and any contribution to regional economic stability that ASEAN is trying to achieve cannot be expected from the current Burmese government.