Human rights concerns to be aired at ASEAN

March 13, 2018

Julie Bishop says she will talk to Aung San Suu Kyi about Rohingya refugees at the ASEAN summit.

Australia intends to press its southeast Asian neighbours including Cambodia and Myanmar about serious human rights concerns when leaders gather in Sydney this weekend.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be among senior ministers speaking with counterparts from the 10-country Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Australia is under pressure to publicly condemn the deaths and expulsion of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar's Rakhine State in recent months.

"I would certainly be encouraging Aung San Suu Kyi to attend the summit so that we can raise directly with her the concerns that we have," Ms Bishop told ABC radio on Tuesday.

"This is an opportunity for us to discuss issues of concern face-to-face and raise with the ASEAN leaders the value that Australia attaches to protecting and promoting human rights."

Australia has provided humanitarian aid to help support hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people who have fled across the border into Bangladesh refugee camps following a military crackdown last August.

Ms Bishop was also pressed on how Australia would deal with Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen, who has threatened those who protest against him at ASEAN with violence.

"We want to engage all ASEAN members at the summit because it provides us with the best chance of influencing issues," the minister said.

Ms Bishop said she would seek assurances about Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, who has been held in pre-trial detention since June last year, during bilateral talks with Cambodia.

"Of course the matter will be raised ... the matter has already been raised with them and I will continue to pursue it," she said.

Ahead of the summit, Ms Bishop hailed the role of international law in settling regional conflicts, in a speech considered a direct message to Beijing over rival claims the South China Sea.

"Australia and our region - in fact, the globe - has been the beneficiary of the rules-based order," Ms Bishop said ahead of the speech.

"Australia is making the quite self-evident case that it's in our interests, in the region's interests, that we need to stick to the rules.

"It regulates behaviour between states, it regulates competition and rivalries, and gives opportunities for nations who feel aggrieved to have their grievances aired through international institutions."

Beijing claims most of the South China Sea and has been building artificial islands within the crucial trade route, which is believed to contain large quantities of oil and natural gas.

ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines all have rival claims in the sea, as does Taiwan.

Australia has long maintained its neutrality on the dispute.

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