Following the 43rd ASEAN Summit from 4-7 September 2023 in Jakarta, Indonesia, Campaign group Progressive Voice said that time is running out for ASEAN to save itself before the whole region drowns along with the multi-dimensional crisis of Myanmar created by the illegal junta.
It said that as the 43rd ASEAN Summit from 4-7 September 2023 convened in Jakarta, Indonesia ASEAN has still yet to find a durable solution for the crisis in Myanmar. The Five-Point Consensus has clearly failed to effectively address the worsening situation and there has been absolutely no meaningful progress since its adoption in April 2021.
Progressive Voice said that ASEAN must take principled steps and be accountable to Myanmar’s people, who – it must not be forgotten – are also peoples of ASEAN. First and foremost, ASEAN must cut ties with and exclude the military junta, a terrorist entity, from its entire mechanisms and all activities. ASEAN must respect and support the people’s aspirations and movement for a federal democratic Myanmar.
It said that as a regional bloc, ASEAN has completely failed the people of Myanmar. Despite the fact that it has banned representatives of the junta from all high-level meetings, it continues to engage with the illegal entity by allowing them to participate in its “non-political” ministerial meetings and different activities and workshops. This includes the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus Experts’ Working Group (ADMM-Plus EWG) on Counter-Terrorism and its military exercises and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), among others.
Even worse is that ASEAN continues to allow the Myanmar junta to be part of decision-making in some of its platforms and events. A recent example exposed by a Justice For Myanmar report is that ASEAN is planning to hold a conference of air force chiefs in Naypyidaw on 12 – 15 September, chaired by the Air Chief Marshal of the illegal Myanmar junta, General Htun Aung.
This is exactly how ASEAN’s actions have been emboldening the military junta – the body which has been constantly launching indiscriminate airstrikes across Myanmar since its illegal coup in 2021. In the hearts of the Myanmar people, such unethical and immoral initiatives taken by ASEAN have failed them tremendously and will not be forgotten.
Progressive Voice believes that by cooperating and siding with the war criminals, not only is ASEAN clearly breaching its human rights and democratic principles and values in its own Charter, but ASEAN is now complicit in the Myanmar junta’s crimes.
The ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) 2023, which took place on 1 – 3 September in Jakarta, Indonesia declared the Myanmar military a terrorist organisation. The statement read “We declare, in one thundering voice, “We are outraged!” Today, we designate the Myanmar military as a terrorist organisation that threatens the security and stability of the region because it is committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
At the Myanmar Day: Hearing from People on the Ground and Experts in the Region event, Salai Za Uk Ling, Deputy Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, stressed that, in order to efficiently and effectively address the Myanmar crisis, the ASEAN Special Envoy’s mandate and role should be long-term rather than on a rotational basis under ASEAN chairship.
Another regional expert, Adelina Kamal, former Executive Director of ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre), raised her concerns regarding ASEAN’s efforts to channel humanitarian aid to Myanmar through the AHA Centre, whose Governing Board – its decision-making body – includes the military junta.
She also said “you cannot expect a rambutan tree to bear durian fruit,” meaning that it is not the right mechanism to solve Myanmar’s crisis. “You cannot use a disaster management mechanism and its tools to address human rights violations, crime against humanity, genocide, apartheid, state’s failure to protect civilians, refugees and force migration (among many others),” she said.
Progressive Voice says that even though ASEAN is rapidly losing credibility as a regional body, ASEAN individual Member States must take more concrete actions to fill this gap. They can follow the principled steps taken by Timor-Leste which has firmly stood with the people of Myanmar by officially rejecting the Myanmar military and its illegal coup attempt and instead recognising the National Unity Government (NUG). This led to the Myanmar junta on 17 August ordering the Timor-Leste Chargé d’Affaires to leave Myanmar before 1 September.
Despite this, the Government of Timor-Leste reiterated its solidarity with the Myanmar people. The bravery and moral leadership of the Timor-Leste Government is a ray of light for ASEAN’s peoples and should be the model for ASEAN countries in the protection of human rights and democracy in the region, according to Progressive Voice.
For example, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar reported that Singapore is the third biggest supplier of arms and equipment to the Myanmar military since its coup attempt, in a trade valued at $254 million from at least 138 Singaporean companies.
Progressive Voice said that Singapore must immediately cut all business relationships with the military junta and take necessary measures; including targeted sanctions and cutting the financial flow and supply of arms and aviation fuel to the junta.
As a regional bloc, ASEAN should have moved beyond the Five-Point Consensus a long time ago and completely revamped its current failed approach. ASEAN individual Member States can and must take concrete steps to stop the junta’s atrocities and alleviate human suffering on the ground by imposing sanctions on arms transfer and cutting diplomatic and defense ties with the military junta.
Furthermore, ASEAN must establish formal and official relationships and collaborate with the NUG and Ethnic Resistance Organizations.
ASEAN must also work with the UN to exercise the mandate provided by the UN Charter to protect the people of Myanmar from the junta’s escalating violence, as well as push the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or establish an ad hoc tribunal to secure accountability.
ASEAN must heed the voices of the people of Myanmar and support people’s aspirations for a federal democratic Myanmar; this is the only way ASEAN can save itself from being complicit in the junta’s international crimes and the growing threats to stability and peace in the region, said Progressive Voice.