Human Rights Must be Front and Center of President Obama’s Visit to Southeast Asia | Freedom House

Human Rights Must be Front and Center of President Obama’s Visit to Southeast Asia

Wahington

Freedom House urges President Obama to highlight ongoing human rights issues and to meet with civil society during his upcoming trip to Southeast Asia, which includes visits to Cambodia, Burma, and Thailand.  These stops are scheduled during the President’s travel to the region November 17-20, where he will attend the East Asia Summit and meet with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phnom Penh. It will be the first time a sitting United States President will visit Cambodia and Burma.

While this is a historic trip, Freedom House expresses deep concerns about the way in which such a high profile visit will be spun by the Burmese and Cambodian governments to further legitimize their rule. Significant human rights violations plague both countries, while a nominally democratic Thailand grapples with sectarian violence in the South and Lèse majesté laws that curtail freedom of expression. Several human rights defenders have been killed and arrested ahead of Cambodia’s general elections and land grabbing and evictions remain rampant.  In Burma, hundreds of political activists still remain imprisoned, violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority has recently escalated, and military abuses in ethnic areas continue unabated.

“Although Burma has seen a tentative opening, it is far from being a vibrant democracy and this visit seems to unduly reward the regime,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House.  “Given that the trip is set and announced, what we now hope for at a bare minimum is that President Obama will use this opportunity to further press the Burmese regime to free all political prisoners, provide legal protections to the Rohingyas, and halt military abuse in ethnic areas.”

The ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights is also slated for adoption in Phnom Penh around the time of the Summit. It was drafted without any meaningful consultation and the process has remained opaque. Human rights groups have decried the Declaration’s adoption in its current form, maintaining that it waters down international human rights standards.

“President Obama should use this visit to urge ASEAN leaders to talk to their citizens and ensure that human rights are not sacrificed at the expense of trade and security interests,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director of Freedom House’s Southeast Asia Program. “A ‘people-centered’ ASEAN should live up to the rhetoric and actually have people at its center.”

Burma and Cambodia are rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2012, Freedom House’s annual global assessment of political rights and civil liberties. Thailand is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2012.

To learn more, visit:

Freedom in the World 2012: Cambodia

Freedom in the World 2012: Burma

Freedom in the World 2012: Thailand

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights. 

Join us on Facebook and Twitter (freedomhousedc) and stay up to date with Freedom House’s latest news and events by signing up for our RSS feeds and our blog.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

Join us on Facebook and Twitter (freedomhouse). Stay up to date with Freedom House’s latest news and events by signing up for our newsletter.