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ASEAN ANALYSIS  20 July 2010

Developing an identity

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   20 July 2010

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Although the start of the Asean Economic Community is more the 4 years off, following developments within the 10-member Asean community and between its member nations , one can sense the parts (the countries) are beginning to form the whole.

This week, the foreign ministers of the 10 Asean countries are meeting in Hanoi. In the past, these meetings and almost every other Asean meeting , have been characterized as “tea parties.”

Everyone is nice and polite and not much happens. But Monday night, things changed.

At a pre-conference dinner, reports are that members laid in to Myanmar (Burma) over its upcoming elections that are definitely not free or fair. Quoted by the Associated Press, Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan told reporters, "Myanmar, I think, got an earful last night that ASEAN is very much concerned." The ministers also offered to send observers to the elections.

The election is, of course, a sham with Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy opting out. The contest is no contest, and no election at all, really.

One development that may allow the other Asean members to perhaps put more pressure on the Burmese is the signing of a Dispute Settlement Mechanism ( DSM) at the Asean Summit. The DSM could be employed when Myanmar refuses to hold an inclusive election.

The new DSM cannot be used to impose sanctions but provides other options to pressure members to abide by the human rights provisions of the Asean Charter. Mediation, conciliation, good office and arbitrary measures are the four measures that can be used to settle disputes.

Rafendi Djamin, Indonesian commissioner for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights, said the results of the Myanmar election could be challenged if the Burmese failed to live up to the human rights standards set forth in the Asean Charter.

It is refreshing to see the Asean countries begin to encounter their pariah member. It will be even more interesting to see what happens when the Myanmar election actually does take place.

The junta , true to its secretive nature, has not divulged the date of this momentous event in the country’s history .

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