The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should take action against Burma's officials for religious freedom violations when it ordered church closures in Rangoon this January.
Calling upon ASEAN to include religious freedom in the 14th ASEAN Summit agenda to be held in Thailand this last week of February, Christian Solidarity Worldwide Hong Kong (CSW HK), points out that about 80% of Rangoon churches have been affected by the closure orders.
The local office of the Myanmar Ministry of Religious Affairs effected the closure by directing landlords not to allow their premises to be used for religious purposes. At least 100 churches have been affected, and 50 pastors were compelled to sign documents promising to stop church services under pain of imprisonment.
In a letter addressed to ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, CSW HK reminded him of his statement on 15 December when the ASEAN Charter took effect that "We at the ASEAN Secretariat pledge to protect and uphold this ASEAN Charter in letter and in spirit for the benefits of all the peoples of ASEAN."
CSW HK cited that one of the purposes of the ASEAN, as stated in Article 1(4) of the Charter, is "to ensure that the peoples and Member States of the ASEAN live in peace with the world at large in a just, democratic and harmonious environment." CSW HK also referred to Article 2(i) and (j) that "ASEAN and its Member States shall act in accordance with the following Principles: (i) respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and the promotion of social justice; (j) upholding the United Nations Charter and international law, including international humanitarian law, subscribed to by ASEAN Member States."
"For years, ASEAN states have not taken action against Burma because it keeps citing the principle of non-interference, but this dilutes the purpose of the Charter, particularly when human rights violations take place," said Ms. Chato Olivas-Gallo, chief executive officer of CSW HK. "If ASEAN is serious about being a caring and sharing community, it must step in and take serious action when a member state violates human rights. Otherwise, the Charter will be mere words, not a binding commitment."