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Asean Must Be Brought to Task on Human Rights, Say Advocates

Thursday, December 12, 2013
PHUKET: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan should give public prominence to human rights issues and concerns at the Japan-Asean summit, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the prime minister.

Japan's summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is scheduled to be held in Tokyo from December 13 to 15, 2013.

In his meetings with Asean leaders, Abe should put into practice his vision of ''diplomacy based on the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law,'' proclaimed in a January address, Human Rights Watch said.

He should transform Japan's traditional ''quiet'' diplomacy on human rights into a more strategic policy of public engagement and constructive criticism.

''Prime Minister Abe should not miss this important opportunity to demonstrate what he meant by diplomacy based on the fundamental values of human rights and democracy,'' said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch.

''As a major aid donor to many Asean countries, Japan has a strong interest in promoting respect for basic rights and fundamental liberties, which are critical for good governance and development.''

Human Rights Watch urged Abe to use his discussions with Asean leaders to raise these and other issues:

.. On Laos, publicly raise serious concerns about the abduction of the prominent Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who was forcibly disappeared a year ago on December 15, 2012;

.. On Cambodia, call for an independent, internationally assisted investigation into election irregularities, and withhold electoral reform assistance until there is an agreement on steps to ensure that future elections conform with international standards;

.. On Vietnam, press for the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners, and for the beginning of a process of legal reform that gives meaningful effect to the human rights language of its revised constitution;

.. On Indonesia, urge a strong response to the growing violence and discrimination against religious minorities, and express concern on the proliferation of decrees that violate women's rights;

.. On Burma, insist on an end to ongoing abuses against the ethnic Rohingya Muslim and Kachin populations, and press the government to permit the establishment of an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country;

.. On Thailand, urge prosecutions of all those responsible for serious rights abuses regardless of political affiliation or position, and reform of its lese majeste laws;

.. On the Philippines, press the government to make fully operational the inter-agency committee on extrajudicial killings that the Aquino administration created in November 2012, and to rescind Executive Order 546 allowing local officials to arm militias;

.. On Malaysia, urge the government to revoke changes to the abusive Prevention of Crime Act 1959 and the Sedition Act and to end persecution of the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim;

.. On Singapore, raise concerns about excessive restrictions on the Internet, and the need to reform laws and regulations undermining freedom of expression, association, and assembly; and

.. On Brunei, urge the country's leadership to reject abusive provisions of the new criminal code and ensure that it complies fully with international human rights standards.

''Prime Minister Abe should not hesitate to raise concerns about the failure of Asean governments to protect human rights and urge improvement,'' Doi said. ''The human rights problems in Southeast Asia are too important for 'quiet diplomacy.'''

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