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Asean can show its values by quickly establishing human-rights body

Today, on the occasion of Human Rights Day, the United Nations launches a year-long system-wide advocacy campaign to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10 next year.

Published on December 10, 2007

The major theme of the campaign is "Dignity and justice for all of us".

From the generous perspective of this campaign, one of the best institutional contributions the 10 members of Asean could bring in 2008 to the noble cause of human rights would be the full implementation of Article 14 of their Charter, signed in Singapore last month. This article stipulates that, in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Asean Charter relating to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Asean shall establish an Asean human-rights body, which shall operate in accordance with the terms of reference to be determined by the Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting.

Giving visible and acceptable tangibility to this essential commitment and project in the vital field of human rights through successful multilateral negotiations will be a difficult but necessary and decisive test for Asean diplomacy in the near future.

Ioan Voicu


Thais at bureaucrats' mercy for overseas visas

Re: "Visa difficulties facing Thais overseas belie 'global-village' rhetoric", Letters, December 9.

I would like to commend Apisake Monthienvichienchai on an excellent contribution to the letters to the editor page. His case was eloquently made and I think a point that is not made often enough.

As visa restrictions for foreigners tighten in Thailand, they still are years away from even approaching the difficulties that Thais face travelling overseas, as Apisake so aptly points out.

Defenders of these bureaucratic nightmares facing Thais travelling overseas may well argue that it is in the interest of the host country, both for economic and security reasons, to ensure that people who might illegally overstay their welcome are kept out.

That is true to an extent. However, it is no reason why the process for visa applications for Thai people needs to be so drawn out and nebulous. I have personally seen several Thai friends apply for visas to Western countries - some get in and some do not - and the similarities between their circumstances are astounding. They are made to wait a long time and when the rejection comes, it is with no reason offered - just "denied".

Foreign embassies here should spearhead the effort to streamline the visa-application process for Thai nationals. Set clear standards of criteria - make them as stringent as they need to be but do not let the subjective bias of some bureaucrat stand in the way. Thailand is on the upper tier of so-called "developing countries" and it's about time its citizens starting getting that respect and more freedom in their overseas travel. I think it will be a long while before Apisake's dreams of unfettered travel for Thais - the same as Westerners enjoy - becomes a reality, but in the meantime I think it is easily within our reach to streamline the process, make those who enforce the rules fully accountable and their decisions on potential applicants transparent.

Friendly Skies


Beware a former prime minister bearing gifts

Ex-prime minister Thaksin says he's through with politics, and wants to devote his life to charity and set up a foundation to help the poor in Asia through sport and education. Bravo - if it's true. Actions speak louder than words, so what has he done? He's washed his hands of politics? But if so, why did he allow the People Power Party to film him at his homes in exile and allegedly distribute five million copies throughout the Northeast?

He's given billions to charity, yes - but the main recipients have been his multi-billionaire guard, driver, maid, brother-in-law, etc. If the charges brought by the Assets Examination Committee are even partly true, then it's difficult to see how he puts other people's interests before his own. How many orphanages has he set up? Zero? How many sports teams for youth, demonstration schools, etc? Also zero?

Let Thaksin follow Warren Buffett's example and donate most of his wealth to a charity - managed by someone else, not him. Or donate to Olympic committees across Asia, expand Shinawatra University to include Asia's best kindergartens, schools, graduate programmes - all free, etc.

Until he matches actions to words, perhaps we should join the Trojan priest Laocoon in saying: "Do not trust the horse, Trojans… I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts."

Burin Kantabutra


Mistreatment of migrant labourers a disgrace

Thailand has always prided itself on being a nation that welcomes ethnic diversity with mindful tolerance and compassionate understanding. Short-sighted vindictive edicts imposed upon hapless migrant workers represent uncivil rights violations and unprincipled abuse of power. Curbs on things ranging from making calls on mobile phones to driving motorcycles and cars demonstrate regressive thinking and truly unjust insecurity measures.

The hard-working migrant workers, who came to Thailand with hopes of creating better lives and increased opportunities for themselves and their families, are instead confronted with distrust, disillusionment and discomforting hostility. Unconscionable demands that pregnant labourers return to their native countries to give birth are heartlessly devoid of feeling.

It is unrealistic to expect those who fled persecution and injustice in Burma, Laos or Cambodia to comply with these biased and highly discriminatory decrees.

With unsafe, makeshift abortions performed to avoid being sent back, all those complicit in enacting these violations have blood on their hands. Migrant workers, like all humans, share a simple common goal - to be treated honestly and fairly, with dignity and respect.

Chanchai Prasertson


US long a friend of freedom in Burma

Re: "SPDC's 'Comical Ali' no cause for mirth", Editorial, December 9.

I enjoyed reading your editorial describing Burmese Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan as Burma's "Comical Ali".

Kyaw Hsan is well known as Burma's equivalent of "Baghdad Bob". His boss, Than Shwe, is often compared to another "Bob" - Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe - who also destroyed a once prosperous nation.

Both these "Bobs" cannot deal with the truth and are terrified that the US army may play an important role for the third time in restoring freedom and democracy in Burma.

The first time the US army played an important role in Burma's freedom was in 1945, when American intelligence officers facilitated Aung San's secret meeting with General Slim of the British army. The American intelligence officer assigned to the British army told me that several British officers wanted to arrest Aung San and put him on trial as a war criminal. The American officer firmly told his British counterparts that Aung San had been given a safe conduct pass and was under the armed protection of American troops. The meeting between Aung San and General Slim went well and facilitated Burma's transition to independence in 1948.

The second time was in 1949, when the Rangoon government almost fell after a large number of troops of the Burma Rifles (including an entire battalion) joined the communist rebellion and Rangoon was defended by units of the Kachin Rifles, Chin Rifles, Gurkha troops and Ne Win's 4th Burma Rifles.

During this emergency, the Rangoon government was broke and unable to pay the full salaries of civil servants. The American Embassy in Rangoon made emergency arrangements with General MacArthur's American occupation army in Japan to purchase Burmese rice. This large shipment of rice played a major role in saving the Rangoon government.

I am confident that the US army will play an important role in the National Uprising in 2008.

Myint Thein

Senior Adviser to the Burmese Resistance

Dallas, Texas

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