Last Friday, Burma applied for the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The chairmanship rotates between member countries, and as a military dictatorship, Burma has been prohibited from holding the position in the past. Following Burma's recent elections, Burma now believes it is eligible for the chairmanship. The problem is that the recent changes in Burma's military regime are more democratic in form than substance; nearly 90% of all seats are either reserved for the military or held by the military-backed party which bodes poorly for true reform. These same army forces committed 73% of all reported human rights violations last year suggesting a continuation of the status quo at best.
Despite strong protests from NGOs and civil society groups, ASEAN is still considering the application. Human rights abuses are still widespread in the country, and ASEAN should acknowledge the Burmese government's continued violations and the regional impact they have. The regional body should maintain pressure on Burma to stop the abuses. Further, ASEAN should support the call for a UN commission of inquiry (COI) into human rights abuses in Burma. A government that is abusing its own people is not a legitimate one, and ASEAN should not give its chairmanship to any such government.