(New York) - As the foreign ministers of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) move into the final day of their meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and prepare to meet with their "dialogue partners" on July 28-29, Human Rights Watch/Asia is calling on ASEAN to effectively address the serious human rights problems in Burma and Cambodia in order to promote stability in the region. "Whether it's the disastrous effect on investment and development of executions and mass arrests in Cambodia, or the continuing outflow of refugees sparked by gross abuses in Burma, ASEAN has an inherent self-interest in becoming more pro-active on behalf of human rights," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, the organization's Washington Director. "Its role in Cambodia has certainly been highly useful and constructive, and we hope that ASEAN will also become more active on Burma." ASEAN is expected to formally admit Burma as a member of the association at its ministerial meeting on July 24-25; Cambodia's ASEAN membership has been delayed, though the current foreign minister, Ung Huot, is due to attend as an observer.
Human Rights Watch/Asia released a report, Burma/Thailand: No Safety in Burma, No Sanctuary in Thailand, as the ASEAN meetings were underway, charging that human rights abuses committed by the Burmese military government continue to force thousands of refugees into neighboring countries. These abuses, which include killings, torture, forced labor and forced relocations, have continued even in areas where cease-fire agreements with rebel armies have been signed. Thailand- a leading member of ASEAN- has borne the main burden of new refugees in the past year. The report also documents violations of international legal norms by the Royal Thai government, which has forcibly repatriated back to Burma more than 8,500 refugees who fled a military offensive against the Karen National Union in February, 1997. Thai authorities also refused entry to an estimated 60,000 refugees from the Shan State from March 1996 onwards. The refugees were fleeing forced relocations and other abuses by the Burmese army affecting an estimated 100,000 people. The report was based on first-hand interviews conducted on the Thai-Burmese border in June 1997, and other documentation.
As the major refugee-producing country in the region, the Burmese government has been denounced in successive United Nations resolutions, yet ASEAN has largely remained silent. "We hope that ASEAN, having admitted Burma as a member, will establish a working group to promote a peaceful end to violence and to curb repression, pressing for implementation of the U.N.'s recommendations," said Mike Jendrzejczyk. "It is urgent that the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Burma, Justice Rajsoomer Lallah, be given access to Burma -- including ethnic minority areas -- before the next ASEAN meeting in Malaysia in December 1997." Human Rights Watch/Asia also called on the Thai authorities to take steps to prevent the forcible repatriation of refugees and to allow the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to carry out its mandate on the Thai/Burmese border, and urged the broader international community to step up concerted pressure on Rangoon to respect basic human rights, including through economic measures.
In Cambodia, since Second Prime Minister Hun Sen's July 5-6 coup, the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has carried out a sustained campaign of violence and intimidation aimed at rooting out the political opposition. There have been between thirty and forty deaths in detention, including six confirmed assassinations of high-ranking officials from the FUNCINPEC party of First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh. The government has detained hundreds of soldiers from army units commanded by pro-FUNCINPEC officers, and by its own admission, subjected them to a program of "reeducation." At least thirty of these soldiers, detained at a former FUNCINPEC base at Thaing Kasing, have been tortured while in custody. FUNCINPEC's entire organizational structure has been shattered, with offices throughout the country looted and destroyed and up to 200 local or provincial officials placed in detention. Door-to-door searches for FUNCINPEC members continue, on the pretext of uncovering "illegal weapons." Although Second Prime Minister Hun Sen has promised to hold free and fair elections for Cambodia's parliament next year, there is little reason to feel confident this commitment will be fulfilled when scores of opposition parliamentarians, journalists, and human rights activists- whose presence is crucial to ensuring free elections take place- have gone into hiding or fled across the border to Thailand.
Human Rights Watch/Asia called on the member countries of ASEAN to: 1) continue to delay Cambodia's ASEAN membership pending an end to killings, arrests and harassment of opposition politicians and supporters, the release of all those in custody, and steps by the Royal Cambodian Government to hold accountable those responsible for abuses that have occurred during and since the coup; 2) continue to withhold investment in Cambodia until basic human rights and conditions for internationally supervised, free and fair elections are restored and elections are underway; 3) ensure the provision of humanitarian parole to refugees fleeing political persecution in Cambodia and facilitate the safe passage of refugees to destinations outside the region.
Other governments attending the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference, including the United States, Australia, Canada, and Japan, should closely coordinate their policies with ASEAN and announce in Kuala Lumpur that they will suspend all bilateral and multilateral aid to the Cambodian government pending compliance with the measures outlined above, while providing direct assistance to non-governmental organizations, private development and human rights groups; instruct their embassies in Cambodia to provide shelter and, on a case-by-case basis, visas for victims of political persecution; expand budgetary support for the Phnom Penh field office of the U.N. Centre for Human Rights and local human rights groups; and demand immediate access to all detainees by the U.N. Centre for Human Rights and the International Committee of the Red Cross.