Burma's Foreign Minister U Nyan Win shakes hands with his Philippine counterpart Alberto Romulo (L) during a bilateral meeting in Manila on March 17, 2010.

© 2010 Reuters

(New York) - The Philippine government should publicly support the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry for Burma, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to President Benigno Aquino III.

Human Rights Watch urged President Aquino to raise this issue within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and to support the proposal for an international Commission of Inquiry on Burma at the US-ASEAN summit in New York, which begins on September 24, 2010.

"The Aquino government should be a leader in ASEAN to actively address human rights abuses in Burma," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "ASEAN should promote justice rather than continuing to take a hands-off approach to abuses among its members."

In his inaugural address on June 30, Aquino said, "There can be no reconciliation without justice. When we allow crimes to go unpunished, we give consent to their occurring over and over again." This rings particularly true for Burma, Human Rights Watch said. The abuses by Burma's military government, as well as by armed ethnic minority groups, have gone unpunished for decades.

In promoting human rights in Burma, Aquino would be following the lead of his late mother, President Corazon Aquino. In a June 1999 speech to the Forum on Democratic Leaders in Asia Pacific entitled "It is Burma's Time Now," the former president said, "For there is something in [the Filipinos'] sense of justice that recoils at the thought that justice should elude, after all these years, the Burmese people - kind, gentle, hardworking; but also brave and persevering."

Over a decade later, the lack of accountability for serious for human rights abuses continues in Burma, and an international inquiry would be a significant step toward justice, Human Rights Watch said. In March, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, called on the UN to consider the possibility of establishing a Commission of Inquiry into crimes in violation of international law committed in Burma.

Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are among the countries that have already publicly announced their support for such an inquiry.

"The situation in Burma presents an opportunity for President Aquino to back his rhetoric on human rights with action," Pearson said. "Supporting an international Commission of Inquiry is in line with past Philippine practice of raising concerns about Burma's human rights record."