Myanmar to Face Human-Rights Test

imageMyanmar to Face Human-Rights Test By MARTIN VAUGHAN

Bandar Seri Begawan, BRUNEI—Myanmar’s turn next year as chair of a Southeast Asian regional bloc will put a spotlight on the country’s record on human rights and democracy, and should help accelerate reforms on those issues, Indonesia’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Marty Natalegawa spoke to reporters on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, following a state visit to Myanmar Wednesday.

Mob attacks against ethnic Muslims in western Myanmar have left tens of thousands homeless and more than 200 dead in the past year. On his visit this week, Mr. Natalegawa said he and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged Myanmar’s leaders to address religious strife in the country and “bring the perpetrators to justice.”

ReutersA Buddhist woman cried after her home was burned down during violent sectarian clashes in Myanmar’s Meikhtila in March.

Human rights groups say Myanmar authorities haven’t done enough to protect minorities and in some cases have been outright hostile to Muslim Rohingyas living in the majority Buddhist country. They also say that while Myanmar has released scores of political prisoners, many remain unjustly locked up.

Myanmar’s government has formed a commission to investigate the causes of violence against the Rohingyas, which is expected to release findings soon.

Mr. Natalegawa said he was encouraged by Myanmar’s response and expressed confidence in the leadership’s resolve to quell the violence.

“From our own national experience, in the process of democratization there will be ups and downs—there will be progress and there will be setbacks,” the Indonesian minister said. “Myanmar has been clear and consistent in saying they reject such intolerance and want to solve these problems.”

The European Union gave Myanmar a vote of confidence Monday by permanently removing trade sanctions that until now had been only temporarily suspended. The next day, Myanmar released nearly 100 prisoners, including dozens of political detainees.

Acting U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis on Wednesday became the latest in a succession of U.S. officials to visit Myanmar, showing “the United States’ support for development and desire to deepen economic engagement between our two countries,” according to a statement from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Myanmar will claim Asean’s rotating chairmanship next year, which means it will organize and host meetings of diplomats working to achieve the bloc’s goals to create a single market and ensure stable politics in the region. It refused an earlier opportunity to serve as chair in 2005, before the watershed political and economic reforms that have thrust the former pariah state into the global spotlight.

The imminent chairmanship “underscores that Myanmar has regained its rightful place in the Asean family,” Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Thailand’s permanent secretary for foreign affairs, said in a separate interview.

More than that, the role will force Myanmar to maintain the pace of reforms, Indonesia’s Mr. Natalegawa said.

“As chair of Asean in 2014, Myanmar will be taking us to that community that is democratic and respectful of human rights and good governance,” Mr. Natalegawa said. “More than anyone, they need to be out there propagating Asean views on these issues.”

Discussions of human rights lately have taken on more prominence within Asean, and the bloc adopted a human rights declaration in November. The U.N. said the declaration was weaker than international standards, however, and criticized Asean for not seeking more input from civil society groups.


The Wall Street Journal


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