08 March 2008

Burma / Myanmar and Indonesia

The Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR) has rejected Myanmar's nominated ambassador to Indonesia because Myanmar maintains a military junta to rule the country. Essentially, what the DPR is saying here is 'return to democracy' and we will allow full diplomatic relations to be restored.

Ultimately, Indonesia and the DPR are relying on a recent ASEAN Charter regarding human rights and also recent ASEAN activity demanding that Burma commence immediate moves to the restoration of full democracy.

At the same time the DPR accepted the nominated ambassadors from Nigeria and Mauritania.

This is a good move and some would say about time and long overdue!

Despite assurances from the junta that Myanmar is moving towards more open democracy and greater popular participation in the electoral process and governance, any long time observer of Burma knows that this is something you take with a grain of salt as not being true. It is a fiction!People should not forget that Burma was moving towards democracy in September last year when the junta exposed itself once again for what it really is -- a group of aging generals and younger sycophants desperate to hang onto power at any cost.

The reality is that while ever Aung San Suu Kyi remains a political prisoner and under house arrest any claims of moving towards democracy must be rejected as unsustainable fiction. The last time free and fair elections were held in Burma the party of Aung San Suu Kyi emerged victorious and overwhelmingly so.

However, despite this principled stand by the DPR it is worth noting that some of the conditions that are being cited as being the grounds that must be satisfied to see normal and full diplomatic relations restored include such things as: protections for the freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, freedom of association, and freedom of movement. Interestingly, arguments can be made that Indonesia also has some issues on these very same fronts!

The proposed amendments to the Press Law for example arguably bring into question whether the freedom of expression and opinion as guaranteed under the Constitution are in fact sustainable in Indonesia if the amended provisions pass the DPR and come into force.

Indonesians are subject to freedom of movement restrictions presumably for public order reasons. For example, the Government of Jakarta routinely conducts raids to check the identity of city residents. Those residents with identity cards issued from outside the capital are returned back to where they came.

Indonesian laws have restrictive freedom of association provisions and despite improvements Indonesians rights in this area still lag in real terms.

Indonesia should be applauded for taking such a principled stance but at the same time the DPR should not neglect to attend to business in its own backyard. This can be done by ensuring that the regulatory framework required for the development of full democracy is put into place in Indonesia. Simply, because if it does not then it might not be too far into the distant future that other States might start to ask more serious questions about Indonesia's commitment to the democratic principles it says that it aspires to achieve.

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