(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): I am today sending an Open Letter to ASEAN Foreign Ministers who are gathering in Manila for the Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) starting tomorrow to make the Manila meeting a historic turning point by adopting a new policy of "flexible engagement" and to focus on the issues of Burma, organised mass gang rapes against women and children in Indonesia, East Timor and free and fair elections in Cambodia.
My Open Letter to the ASEAN Foreign Minister reads:
23rd July 1998
To All ASEAN Foreign Ministers
The first Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) being held in Manila after ASEAN had celebrated its 30th anniversary last year should make a historic turning point for the regional organisation by adopting a new policy of "flexible engagement" and focus on the issues of Burma, organised mass gang rapes against women and children in Indonesia, East Timor and free and fair elections in Cambodia.
The time has come for ASEAN to make a critical change in its modus operandi to allow members to examine, discuss and criticise the domestic policies of member States as the year-long economic crisis has shown that the policies of member countries have a regional impact and affect the economies of other nations.
The Thai and Filipino proposal for a new policy of moving from a "non-interference" principle to "flexible engagement" or "constructive intervention" deserves support as ASEANís international credibility would be seriously undermined in the new millennium if it continues with its "see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, talk-no-evil" policy of members not criticizing fellow member governments.
Human rights and democracy, for example, are no longer issues that can be regarded as purely internal affairs. They are issues of concern to everyone. When these universal rights are removed or violated, other nations have the right to speak out in protest. Otherwise, all nations would foreit the right to condemn gross violations of human rights in other lands, whether it be the ethnic cleansing and genocide perpetrated by the Serbs against the Bosnians or the Israeli violation of human rights of the Palestinians.
The AMM in Manila should proced to focus on the following issues of Burma, organised mass gang rapes against women and children in Indonesia, East Timur and free and fair elections in Cambodia:
The situation in Burma is deteriorating rapidly. It seems there may be as many as 40 MPs currently under arrest and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and National League for Democracy (NLD) members and supporters are suffering increased harassment and restriction of movement. This week, for instance, the military junta tightened restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi, blocking her attempts to leave the capital Rangoon.
The Burmese situation became critical in the last month, with as many as 900 people detained since the NLD issued an ultimatum to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to allow the convening of Parliament on the 21st of August. MPs from the NLD are being forced to register with authorities night and day, those refusing, by order, are being detained.
The AMM in Manila should take a major initiative to promote democratisation and national reconciliation in Burma by supporting the consecutive United Nations General Assembly Resolution on Burma and endorse the call by the NLD for the convening of Parliament to be allowed on or before the 21st of August.
The AMM should also set up a Special ASEAN Task Force on Burma to:
The AMM should condemn the atrocities and brutalities in Indonesia,
in particular the organised mass gang rape of women and children, during
the Indonesian turmoils in May as crimes against humanity as defined in
the instrument establishing the International Criminal Court to be set
up at The Hague.
This is an issue which transcends race, religion, nationalities or even political beliefs as they violate the fundamental rights of human beings to be treated as human beings - with respect and dignity.
The AMM should send an ASEAN Human Rights Commission to investigate the atrocities and brutalities, particularly the organised mass gang rape of women and children, to help Indonesia remove the great stain on her international reputation as a result of such bestiality by giving justice to the victims and to bring to book the perpetrators.
3. East Timor
The AMM should not be a bystander but be an active participant by encouraging Indonesia to create the conditions for a true dialogue for the resolution of the 23-year-old East Timor dispute, based on restoring to the East Timorese their right to genuine self-determination, the release of Timorese guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao and other Timorese prisoners, end torture in East Timor and the withdrawal of all but a symbolic number of Indonesian troops.
4. Fair and fair elections in Cambodia
The AMM should declare its concern that Cambodiaís general elections on Sunday would be fair, free and credible and to announce the ASEAN plan of action should the general elections in Cambodia fall short of acceptable international standards.
Lim Kit Siang
& DAP Secretary-General