Jul 23, 2008 (DVB)–Burmese rights activists have welcomed Burma’s ratification of the ASEAN charter but urged that public education and an enforcement mechanism are key to the protection of human rights in the country.
U Myint Aye of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network stressed that there needed to be greater public awareness of the human rights protections laid out in the charter.
"It is important for everyone to know and really understand the facts about the human rights norms. In order to make that happen, they should be educated about the subject in schools and other public areas and through the mass media," Myint Aye said.
"If the Burmese government's ratification of the ASEAN charter assures us of human right protections, we welcome it," he said.
"However, this is not the first time Burma has signed a Human Rights agreement – we have signed a couple of similar agreements since 1948."
Human Rights Education Institute of Burma director Aung Myo Min also welcomed the development of a human rights agreement for the region.
"We would like to praise the fact that a human rights agreement, the like of which has never been seen in the ASEAN region, has finally been developed,” he said.
“We welcome the fact that the Burmese government, which has been infamous for its violations of human rights, has signed the charter."
However, Aung Myo Min said it was also important that the regional body could hold state accountable for human rights abuses.
"One thing to have a think about is that the human rights charter has not as yet developed to a level where one can tell what kind of enforcement mechanism it will have,” he said.
“We will be very pleased if a mechanism under which the ASEAN can effectively punish governments who violate human rights is developed rather than just a charter to sign."
Myint Aye said it was the responsibility of the government and knowledgeable people to inform others of their rights.
“If we can get the entire 50 million plus citizens of Burma to feel and understand what it's like to live with human rights, that would be a very useful thing,” he said.
“But we can't say there is an improvement in human rights just because the government had ratified the charter."
Aung Myo Min said that the government should take steps to comply with the obligations it already has under international human rights law.
“The government should not wait for the human right norms which have yet to be approved – they should start sticking to the agreements they have already made to protect the rights of women and children, and they should immediately stop violating human rights,” the HREIB director said.
“An easy step they can take first is to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all the other political detainees,” he went on.
“If the junta really respects human rights, they should pursue a dialogue with people's parliament representatives and ethnic leaders elected by the people."
Burma deposited its instrument of ratification of the charter to ASEAN secretary-general Dr Surin Pitsuwan on Monday in a ceremony on the sidelines of a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Singapore.
The charter will come into force 30 days after it has been ratified by all ten ASEAN member states.
The document establishes ASEAN as a legal entity and lays out the key principles and purposes of the regional bloc, including adherence to democratic values and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
It has yet to be ratified by Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Reporting by Aye Nai