Democracy the way to stability and prosperity: Asian actvitists

October 10, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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Jakarta Post
7 October 2003

A number of human rights activists and members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) fromASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) member countries plan to stage a demonstration on Tuesday to protest human rights abuses by the leaders of ASEAN.

As an expression of their anger toward the junta in Yangon for its treatment of opposition leader Aung SanSuu Kyi, they vowed to tear down the poster of Myanmar’s Prime Minister Gen. Khin Nyut, displayed along with posters of the other ASEAN leaders at the entrance to the Bali International Conference Center,where the ASEAN summit is being held.

Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the NGO Altsean-Burma,said on Monday that ASEAN had not learned any lessons from Myanmar’s experience. “For decades, the Burmese military regime has used brute force and repressive laws against their own citizens in the name of national security. Their repression has caused millions to flee their homes and scared investors away,” she said as quoted in a press release made available to The Jakarta Post.

On the sideline of the 9th ASEAN Summit and ASEAN Business and Investment Summit, a number of NGOs from ASEAN member countries are holding a parallel summit.

Human rights activists gathered at the Bualu hotel in Nusa Dua, near the venue of the ASEAN summit, on Monday. They slammed ASEAN governments for turning the “war against terrorism” into a “war for terrorism” through the increased used of violence and repressive laws, creating more insecurity, fear and resentment among people in the region.

Indonesian activist Bonor Tigor of Solidamor pointed to the Indonesian’s governments actions in Aceh. “Most of the victims of the war in Aceh are civilians. We call on both sides, the government and the Free Aceh Movement to stop the war and declare a cease-fire during the fasting month [Ramadhan],” he said.

Yap Swee Seng from SUARAM, a Malaysian human rights organization, warned ASEAN that repressive laws suchas Malaysia’s Internal Security Act would not wipe out terrorism, but only perpetuate more injustice and human rights violations, which are the main causes of terrorism.

“ASEAN should respect human rights if it desires genuine security and stability. All political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi and Anwar Ibrahim, should be released immediately.” He also said that retiring Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamad had done a grave disservice to human rights and democracy, both domestically and regionally.

“Malaysia should take responsibility for the continuous deterioration of human rights in Myanmar as it was the regime’s main sponsor for ASEAN membership,” he said.

Sunai Phasuk, a political analyst from Thailand’s Forum-Asia, said the policies and actions of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s government on numerous issues had made the country a major impediment to ASEAN truly becoming a regional community that promote and protect human rights, democracy and fairness.

“People’s participation, central to Thailand’s democracy, has rapidly been restricted. To consolidate an unchallenged rule, the government has curtailed freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression. “Thaksin’s government is bringing back old practices where punishments were meted out at the wish of the rulers without any
reference to limits imposed by law and morality,” Sunai said.

A representative of the Open Singapore Center, Gandhi Ambalam, said the rapid economic development experienced by Singapore was not matched by development in other sectors. “Economic development without political freedom will not be able to bring about wealth creation and sustainable growth,” Ambalam said.

This truth, he said, has begun to dawn on Singapore, which has been bogged down in recession since l998. “Singapore has been under one-party rule for the past 44 years. The initial euphoria over the double-digit growth experienced from the l970s to the early 90s has been given way to increased despondency among the people of Singapore,” he said.

Landry H. Subianto of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta said ASEAN’s attempts to create an integrated community would be difficult without certain prerequisites, including good governance, inclusiveness and democracy.

“There must be an improved spirit of partnership, not only among governments but also between governments and civil society and among the people of Southeast Asia,” Subianto said.

See also media release of the Singapore Democrats in the next section.