By JIM GOMEZ / AP WRITER
MANILA, Philippines — Burma should free all political detainees and fulfill a long-standing pledge to democratize, the Philippine foreign secretary said on Thursday.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations plans to launch a landmark human rights body in October during its annual summit. But diplomats have acknowledged it will have no power to investigate and punish violators.
Constrained by the 10-member bloc's policy of noninterference in each other's domestic affairs, the body cannot force compliance. Still, its creation has been hailed as a milestone for a region with a long history of human rights abuses.
Romulo singled out military-ruled Burma for its dismal rights record and said Asean must recognize that it has human rights problems and think about how it can protect "basic freedoms" to give the regional rights body "an auspicious beginning."
Myanmar has long been a source of embarrassment for Asean, which has repeatedly criticized its ruling generals but chose to engage it politically rather than ostracize it. The Philippines, along with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, is among the most vocal critics of the junta within the grouping, which was founded in 1967.
"Since its acceptance into the Asean family in 1997, Myanmar has stated its commitment to democracy and to embark on a national reconciliation process," Romulo said in a statement. "Fulfilling these commitments would be showing true progress."
Carrying out its promise before the rights body's launch would make the body "credible not only to the world community but more importantly to our own peoples," said Romulo.
Romulo also reiterated his call for Burma’s ruling junta to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and allow the unconditional participation of her party, the National League for Democracy, in free national elections to be held in 2010.
Asean includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. It admitted Burma in 1997, despite strong opposition from Western nations.