Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thailand: Press Burmese President on Rights

Source: Human Rights Watch

Thein Sein’s Visit Offers Opportunity to Promote Reforms

(New York) – The Thai government should press Burmese President Thein Sein to take immediate and concrete steps to address serious human rights problems in Burma when he visits Thailand from July 22-24, 2012, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday.

Human Rights Watch urged Prime Minister Yingluck to use Thailand’s leverage as one of Burma’s major political and economic partners and a core member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to help improve respect for human rights and promote political reform in the country.

“The Burmese government’s record on human rights remains poor, despite recent signs of change,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “As a neighbor long affected by Burma’s abysmal rights record, the Thai government should not miss this opportunity to press Thein Sein to end army abuses against ethnic minorities and protect the basic rights of all people in Burma.”

Yingluck’s government has publicly and repeatedly pledged Thailand’s support for political reforms in Burma, including the improvement of human rights and humanitarian conditions. The most meaningful test of Burma’s commitment to genuine reform will be in its respect for plurality and transparency in enacting new laws; the creation of rights-respecting institutions such as the courts; its promotion and protection of basic human rights and respect for the laws of war; its commitment to ending discrimination and ensuring equality of opportunity for ethnic nationalities in political, economic, social, and cultural realms; and in the seriousness with which it addresses issues of impunity for current and past human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch urged Prime Minister Yingluck to press President Thein Sein to:

· Immediately and unconditionally release all remaining political prisoners;

· Take all necessary steps to end serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Burmese army in Burma’s conflict areas;

· Allow humanitarian organizations and independent human rights monitors unhindered access to populations in need, including in Kachin and Arakan States, and permit sufficient humanitarian aid to internally displaced people and others;

· Bring Burmese laws, regulations, and practices into conformity with international human rights standards, and amend provisions in the 2008 Constitution that prevent the military from being accountable to civilian authority;

· Include mechanisms in any political settlements reached between the government and ethnic armed groups to protect and promote human rights in ethnic areas, including civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights;

· Fully implement the government-International Labor Organization memorandum of understanding to eliminate all forms of forced labor;

Human Rights Watch said that Thailand’s relationship with Burma should expand beyond the Burmese government, military, and business community to include opposition parties and a broad range of Burmese-led civil society organizations, including groups in remote areas and those working on issues in Burma from Thailand.

Prime Minister Yingluck should be cautious about encouraging more Thai investment in the absence of a functioning human rights safeguards and legal framework in Burma, Human Rights Watch said. In construction and maintenance of large-scale infrastructure projects, the Burmese military has a long record of carrying out serious violations, including forced relocations of civilians and systematic use of forced labor. In addition, there are credible reports of serious abuses by Burmese state security forces in various other sectors, such as mining, logging, and industrial agricultural farming. Some of these projects receive foreign investment, including from Thailand.

The Thai government should develop and implement legally binding safeguards that comport with international human rights standards with regard to business activities of Thai companies in Burma, such as the Dawei Deep Sea Port and industrial estate project in Tennaserim Division, coal mining projects in Shan State, hydropower dam projects in Shan and Karen States, and investments in the oil and gas sector. Thailand should suspend any financing for Thai-invested projects that do not abide by these safeguards.

“The opening of Burma’s economy should not be construed by Thai business as an excuse to aid and abet rights abuses by local partners,” Adams said. “Prime Minister Yingluck should insist that Thai companies demonstrate the best of Thailand, not the worst.”