(Bangkok) – Southeast Asian governments should urgently revamp their response to Myanmar’s abusive junta by coordinating with the wider international community, Human Rights Watch said today. Despite adopting a ‘five-point consensus’ on the crisis a year ago, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has failed to deliver on its promises or take meaningful action to pressure the junta to end its human rights abuses.
“Myanmar’s junta has spent the past year committing atrocities in complete disregard of its commitments to ASEAN,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Myanmar’s leading ASEAN countries – Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – should immediately change course to focus on protecting people’s rights and freedoms rather than helping the junta stay in power.
At a summit in Jakarta on April 24, 2021, the nine ASEAN leaders and the head of Myanmar’s junta, General Min Aung Hlaing, agreed on five points: an immediate end to violence in the country ; dialogue between all parties; the appointment of a special envoy; ASEAN humanitarian aid; and the visit of the special envoy to Myanmar to meet with all parties. In the year since, Min Aung Hlaing has challenged every point while overseeing a brutal nationwide crackdown aimed at suppressing the millions of people opposed to military rule.
Two days after the consensus agreement, the junta withdrew its approval, announcing that it would consider “suggestions made by ASEAN leaders when the situation returns to stability”. Rather than stopping the attacks as planned, the junta escalated its abuses. Violations by the junta since the coup include massacres, torture, arbitrary arrests and indiscriminate attacks against civilians that constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Security forces killed more than 1,700 people, including at least 130 children, and arbitrarily arrested more than 13,000. The army expanded its abusive operations in ethnic minority areas, displacing more than 550,000 people. Instead of heeding the consensus by allowing aid to flow, the junta deliberately prevented humanitarian aid from reaching populations in need as a form of collective punishment.
The five-point consensus, meanwhile, has become a pretext for governments such as the UK, US, Australia and European Union member states to delay real action under the pretext of wait for ASEAN leadership, Human Rights Watch said. The junta has exploited the deference of the international community to the regional bloc, which has long neglected its responsibility to protect the peoples of Southeast Asia under its principles of non-interference and consensus.
ASEAN appointed Brunei’s second foreign minister, Erywan Yusof, as its special envoy to Myanmar last August. His planned visit to the country in October was canceled when the junta denied him access to Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained civilian leaders, a precondition for his visit and a consensus requirement.
The junta said it would continue to block efforts to meet with Suu Kyi and other detainees, or with entities it declared “illegal”, including the shadow civilian government, the National Unity Government ( NUG).
In unprecedented censorship from the bloc, ASEAN barred Min Aung Hlaing from its biannual summit in October, with only one non-political representative invited to attend. Singapore announced that it was a “difficult but necessary decision to maintain ASEAN’s credibility given the unsatisfactory and very limited progress in implementing the five-point consensus of the ASEAN leaders”. . The junta ultimately refused to attend.
Myanmar’s refusal to honor consensual commitments has revealed fractures within ASEAN. Several ASEAN countries – including Malaysia and Indonesia, often alongside Singapore and the Philippines – have publicly criticized the junta’s intransigence, calling for the continued banning of political representatives from future summits.
However, Cambodia, chair of ASEAN this year, has renewed its engagement with the junta, with Prime Minister Hun Sen visiting Myanmar in January, the first foreign leader to do so. The current special envoy, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, met in late March with Min Aung Hlaing and other junta officials despite their refusal to grant Suu Kyi access.
Prak Sokhonn’s claims of “significant results” were immediately denied when Min Aung Hlaing, in his speech on the occasion of Armed Forces Day, March 27, announced that the military “would no longer consider negotiations with terrorist groups and their supporters”, referring to the NUG and the anti-coup movement, and will seek to “annihilate them to the end”.
On January 28, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called the international response “ineffective”, stating that “the measures taken by the UN Security Council and by the ‘Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were insufficient to convince the Myanmar military’. cease its violence. In his March report to the Human Rights Council, Bachelet noted that despite the consensus, ASEAN leaders “did not achieve tangible results.”
Key ASEAN countries, namely Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, should work closely with other governments to develop a clear, time-bound approach to pushing Myanmar’s junta for reform, including increasing restrictions on its foreign exchange earnings and arms purchases. ASEAN should signal its support for a UN Security Council resolution instituting a global arms embargo, referring the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court and imposing targeted sanctions on junta leaders and companies owned In the Army.
US President Joe Biden, who will host ASEAN members at a summit in May, is expected to urge Southeast Asian leaders to abandon their failed consensual approach and encourage greater cooperation with other countries. other countries promoting stronger action against the junta’s rights abuses.
More than 50,000 refugees from Myanmar have fled to Thailand and other neighboring countries since the coup. These governments should end all forced returns of asylum seekers and instead ensure that refugees have access to international protection assistance and procedures, as well as facilitate cross-border emergency assistance. .
“For a year, governments around the world have blocked their actions against Myanmar by standing behind ASEAN’s empty rhetoric – and have nothing to show for it,” Pearson said. “They must adopt strong measures to deter further atrocities and hold the military accountable, not a fragile consensus that has proven its futility.”