"Up to ASEM" to pressure Myanmar, says Human Rights Watch

The upcoming Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit in Beijing provides an ideal opportunity for Asian and European leaders to pressure Myanmar to improve it's poor human rights record, New York-based Human Rights Watch stated Thursday, dpa reported.

"Since Burma's [Myanmar's] rulers have stonewalled on the efforts by the UN to bring about real change, its up to ASEM ministers to send a message that sham political reforms are unacceptable," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The seventh ASEM Summit, being held in Beijing on Friday and Saturday, is expected to draw 45 leaders from Europe and Asia.

Myanmar's Prime Minister Thein Sein was also scheduled to attend.

Myanmar's ruling junta has been in the spotlight again this year for its inhumane handling of the Cyclone Nargis tragedy, that left an estimated 138,000 people dead or missing after smashing into the country's southern Irrawaddy delta region on May 2-3.

Despite the natural catastrophe, deemed the worst in Myanmar's recent history, the regime insisted on holding a national referendum in May to approve a new constitution designed to cement the military's dominant role in politics, even under an elected government.

The referendum, held without international monitoring, was blamed for the junta's reluctance to allow in emergency aid and relief workers during the first dire weeks after the cyclone, which left some 2.3 million people in desperate need of food, water, shelter and medical relief.

Although the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as Myanmar's military rulers style themselves, streamlined cooperation with the international aid community after holding the referendum, they have demonstrated no interest in heeding international calls for political reforms and protection of human rights.

In August, senior SPDC leaders refused to meet with Ibrahim Gambari, the UN secretary general's special adviser on Myanmar, who had travelled to the country to push for political progress, including the freeing of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who has been under house arrest since May, 2003.

"ASEM members have a chance to challenge Burma to make political reforms and start respecting basic freedoms," said Adams, in a statement issued by HRW from New York on the eve of the ASEM Summit. "Silence over the human rights abuses in today's Burma isn't an option anymore for ASEM leaders."

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