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ASEAN MPs call on Obama to raise human rights concerns during Myanmar visit

BANGKOK – The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) today welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama’s plans to visit Rangoon next week but urged the President to use his visit to push for key demands and raise human rights concerns with the government there.

Washington has been a driving force in the engagement of Nay Pyi Taw and a key supporter in the reform process; it has eased sanctions, appointed its first ambassador in 22 years, and opened a USAID mission there. These ‘rewards’ have come in response to reforms initiated by the government of President Thein Sein but there is also consideration of Washington’s ‘Asian pivot’ and the United States’ bid to reassert itself in the Asia Pacific region.

AIPMC hopes that improved human rights and the strengthening of democracy will be the key objectives of Obama’s visit, which will not only be seen as adding further legitimacy to the government of President Thein Sein, but also encouraging it in its efforts to enact key reform measures.

“Yes, the situation is complicated; there are concerns that pushing the Thein Sein government to move too quickly with reform measures could provoke a backlash from military hardliners; and it is commendable that President Obama has embarked on this trip in an effort to ensure the reform process does not backslide, but it is also important that fundamental ideals are not surrendered in the drive for economic and political gains,” AIPMC President and Indonesian Member of Parliament Eva Kusuma Sundari said.

“We should all be expecting concrete commitments and deliverable achievements from President Obama’s visit. We are hopeful that this first ever visit to Myanmar by a US president can offer a real boost to the reformers in the government and help them persevere with this difficult transition.”

Key achievements of this visit could include securing the release of remaining political prisoners; it is notable that, according to civil society groups, there were no political detainees among the 452 prisoners released yesterday in a government amnesty. AIPMC also encourages Obama to work towards securing a commitment from Nay Pyi Taw to enter into political dialogue with non-state armed groups and to allow further humanitarian access to Rakhine and Kachin states, as well as agreement to allow the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to establish a presence in Myanmar.

AIPMC is also encouraged by Obama’s plans to meet with civil society members and Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon as well as President Thein Sein and government representatives.

“Both Nobel Peace Prize Laureates must seize the opportunity to call for continued international assistance to help end the violence in Rakhine State and return basic rights to the Rohingya people. Nay Pyi Taw must act decisively to end the violence and seek a durable and acceptable solution to inter-communal tensions in Myanmar,” Ms. Sundari said.

AIPMC affirms that it is up the Burmese people to decide their own future, but recognizes the influential role Washington and the rest of the international community has in helping or hindering them in this endeavor. Washington must also be made aware of the perhaps unplanned negative consequences of renewed economic investment in Myanmar and the United States’ responsibility to ensure that its support of the reform process benefits all of the people.

“Land grabbing and human rights abuses are on the rise as a result of the new investments coming into Myanmar. Transparency is still sorely lacking and ordinary people do no have access to redress through the legal system. Like in Cambodia, there is no truly independent judiciary or police force – without these you cannot have the rule of law,” said Son Chhay, AIPMC Vice President and Cambodian Member of Parliament.

“This visit offers Obama the opportunity to see the realities of an impoverished country moving slowly out of years of harsh dictatorship whilst simultaneously struggling to withstand the forces of global capitalism and an influx of international aid and development loans. Hopefully he will be able to see enough to be persuaded to revise his understanding of the wider situation and identify properly what the country’s pressing needs really are, and the best way to support this reform process.”



The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) is a network formed in an inaugural meeting in Kuala Lumpur, on 26-28 November 2004 by and for parliamentarians from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. The aim is advocating for human rights and democratic reform in Myanmar/Burma.  Its members represent both the ruling and non-ruling political parties of countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Cambodia.


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