Global Insight: Junta visas at expense of human rights?

Allowing representatives of Myanmar’s violent junta to attend an important Asia leaders’ meeting in New Zealand this month could signal the government is willing to back down on values like human rights, Prof Robert Patman warns.

Senior officials from Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), including Myanmar, will meet with Kiwi counterparts in Wellington on April 18-19. 

Prof Patman says critics inside and outside New Zealand will see it as point-scoring at the expense of the nation’s core values.

‘‘We have to work out, very carefully, whether currying favour with Asean, but at the same time retreating on our commitment to human rights, is worth it,’’ the University of Otago international relations specialist told Global Insight

Community organisations, including people from Myanmar living in New Zealand, have expressed shock and anger at the coalition government’s decision to issue entry visas to representatives of the military junta that, three years ago, overthrew the democratically elected government of Myanmar and has tried to violently suppress domestic opposition.

The New Zealand Government argues its hands are tied because Myanmar is a member of Asean.

At the same time, New Zealand is a sovereign country and can decide who is allowed to attend and who is not, Prof Patman said.

‘‘I think it's quite clear that if the government thought they could ride this out, without being noticed, domestically and internationally - and therefore, remain on very good terms with Asean - I don't think that option is going to be available.

‘‘Wouldn’t it be better to send Myanmar and Asean a very clear message that New Zealand will not back down on core respect for human rights?’’