Monday, February 7, 2011

Thai policies on Burma are just window-dressing



Little effort to deal with cause of woes; Asean praise for sham ballot was sad








The recent footage of how Thai authorities responding to the latest Rohingya "boat people" was very different from what was seen a year ago when they were forced at gunpoint to give information just moments after they landed on a Thai shore. This time around the authorities made sure that the footage was that of medical personnel assisting the refugees.

Not very subtle, one might say. But then again, what can one expect from a nation with strong tradition of window dressing instead of dealing with the heart of problems, which, in this case, is the treatment of the people of Burma by its military regime.

Thailand, for one, is facing growing calls from the international community to permit the UN refugee agency access to the Rohingya boat people, who continue to land on the country's coastal provinces. The government preferred to handle this itself despite knowing that this particular ethnic group, the Rohingya, faces severe prosecution by the Burmese government. The sad thing is that the Burmese government doesn't even recognise them as their citizens - they claim they are a bunch of Muslims who occupied their country. And by not recognising them, the Burmese believe they have no obligation, legal or moral, to these people once they drift away from Burma territory.

This past week Burma faced its first-ever Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations' Human Rights Council in Geneva. It is a process all member state must undergo every four years to ascertain the progress on human rights in each country.

It came just days before the new parliament, elected last year, convened on January 31 in the nation's capital, Naypyidaw, to select a president and form a new government already dominated by the country's military. The UPR process is an opportunity to put under the spotlight one of the most criticised regimes in the world.

As expected, numerous concerns were raised, including the issue of political prisoners, treatment of ethnic minorities, and impunity for government officials, plus systematic and gross human rights violations that many say are crimes against humanity, along with the use of rape as a mean of demoralising minority women living in conflict zones.

In its response, the Burmese delegation said, "Accusations of rape against ethnic women are baseless, and are aimed at discrediting the armed forces." They claimed the armed forces have a zero tolerance policy towards serious human rights violations, including sexual violence. Somebody needs to tell the government of Burma that the world has moved beyond the tit-for-tat discourse between Burma and the rest of the world over who did what and when.

The evidence speaks for itself. Nearly 2,200 people languishing in Burma's prisons for expressing their views. It has been documented that nearly 150 of these political prisoners have died in detention since 1988. And let's not forget the tens of thousands of refugees living in camps that dotted the Thai-Burma border.

Thailand and the Asean countries, on the other hand, have this policy of non-interference. They stubbornly cling on to this policy in spite knowing that the atrocities in Burma seriously affect neighbouring countries. In this respect, it was deeply disappointing to see Asean members commend Burma for the sham November 7 election and hail it as a positive development.

Asean members' support for Burma's '7-Step Road-map' is also of concern, as the blueprint fails to include all stakeholders in the country. And yet, they are scratching their heads as to why thousands of refugees and millions of Burmese citizens flee their country and put neighbouring countries in unwanted positions as their policy and treatment of refugees is exposed to the world.

In its National Report, the regime claimed it was "bringing about balanced development... to enable the national races to enjoy the benefit of development". But as numerous reports have pointed out, these so-called development initiatives, regardless of its size, rarely benefit affected communities and are likely to lead to further impoverishment.

Thailand and the Asean countries, on the other hand, have this policy of non-interference. They stubbornly cling on to this policy in spite knowing that the atrocities in Burma seriously affect neighbouring countries. In this respect, it was deeply disappointing to see Asean members commend Burma for the sham November 7 election and hail it as a positive development.

Asean members' support for Burma's '7-Step Road-map' is also of concern, as the blueprint fails to include all stakeholders in the country. And yet, they are scratching their heads as to why thousands of refugees and millions of Burmese citizens flee their country and put neighbouring countries in unwanted positions as their policy and treatment of refugees is exposed to the world.

In its National Report, the regime claimed it was "bringing about balanced development... to enable the national races to enjoy the benefit of development". But as numerous reports have pointed out, these so-called development initiatives, regardless of its size, rarely benefit affected communities and are likely to lead to further impoverishment. The Nation, Bangkok

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