In giving legitimacy to the repressive military junta in Burma, ASEAN stands the risk of undermining its international credibility and legitimacy, especially if the State Law and Restoration Council (SLORC) uses it new-found legitimacy to crack down on the National League for Democracy and Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Tomorrow, July 19, is the 50th anniversary of Martyrsí Day in Burma. On that day in 1947, Suu Kyiís father, Burmaís independence hero, Aung San and six of his Cabinet Ministers were assassinated by a political rival. Aung San advocated democracy for his country but his death plunged Burma into a period of instability and insurgencies that culminated in the 1962 military coup.
It is very sad that on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Matyrs Day, Burma is no nearer to a new democratic beginning. On the contrary there are ominous signs that the Burmese military rulers might be setting the scene for a new wave of repression after Burma had been officially admitted into ASEAN next week.
Two weeks ago, for instance, Lieutenant-General Tin Oo, one of the countryís four most powerful elements, warned that the military government had been watching "destructive elements" - SLORCís code word for NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi - and would take action against them if they did not mend their ways.
ASEAN governments must make it very clear to the SLORC leaders next week that admission into ASEAN is not a licence for gross violation of human rights and that although ASEAN countries do not interfere in each otherí domestic affairs, SLORC should not undermine ASEANís international image, credibility and legitimacy through a new wave of repressions against pro-democracy activists.
In fact, ASEAN should learn from the failure of its "constructive engagementí policy on Burma and craft a new pro-active approach to protect ASEANís international credibility by helping Burma embark on the road of democratic reforms, national reconciliation and a more open polity instead of being a very closed society.
The time has also come for ASEAN to give greater meaning to the regional grouping on its 30th anniversary by showing the world that South East Asian nations could not only become economic powerhouses, but also become human rights models.
There is no more meaningful way to mark ASEANís 30th anniversary than the establishment of an ASEAN Commission of Human Rights to uphold human rights in the region and address regional concerns that Burmaís admission would be a setback for democracy and human rights, not only in Burma, but also for the other ASEAN nations.
The ASEAN Commission of Human Rights should ensure that with Burmaís admission, Rangoon does not set the benchmark to become the regionís lowest-common-denominator on democracy and human rights.
With Burmaís admission into ASEAN, both Thailand and Malaysia have been talking about the replacement of the highly-embarrassing ASEAN "constructive engagement" policy on Burma with a more comprehensive policy, now that Burma had become a member of the regional grouping.
The ASEAN Commission of Human Rights should be animportant plank of a "comprehensive ASEAN policy on Burma" to help Burma embark on the road towards democratisation and national reconciliation.