[Joint statement] Letter to the Telenor Group

12 August 2021

Please click here for full statement in PDF.

Gunn Wærsted
Chair of the Board
Telenor Group

cc: Sigve Brekke
President & CEO
Telenor Group

12 August 2021

Dear Mdm. Gunn Wærsted,

Our organizations are writing to express alarm regarding the announcement by Telenor Group to sell off their Myanmar business to M1 Group, and to strongly urge you to reconsider this decision and institute human rights safeguards.

In 2013, Telenor’s application for a telecommunications licence in Myanmar was considered risky as Myanmar was at an early stage in its democratic transition, which recent events have demonstrated was not irreversible.  Nevertheless, we observed that through the years since, Telenor’s operations within Myanmar strived to follow a responsible and human-rights centric approach as required under the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on Business and Human Rights, the OECD Guidelines for Responsible Business Conduct by Multinational Enterprises, and Telenor’s various other commitments in Norway, Myanmar and globally. 

Telenor Myanmar thereby gained the trust of our organisations and other civil society due to its transparency and engagement within the country, something which is reflected in the open letter by over 460 civil society organisations sent on 14 July 2021. These stakeholders recognise that Telenor has always sought to exercise ‘leverage to prevent or mitigate adverse impacts’ within the constraints posed by the Myanmar regulatory framework, as required by the UNGPs.

We recognise that since the coup, Telenor, like other companies, has come under extreme pressure from the military to take further steps which undermine its responsibility to respect human rights. We realise that you face many challenges, not least protecting the rights of your employees and customers, in addition to commercial and operational challenges.  However, we note that many of these challenges are not unique to Myanmar, and that Telenor continues to operate in other challenging markets such as Pakistan and Bangladesh.

We were therefore surprised and dismayed to learn that Telenor has taken a rapid decision to leave Myanmar, and to sell to the M1 Group. We note that Telenor has done this without seeking the views of the civil society stakeholders with whom it previously significantly engaged on responsible business, including some of our undersigned organisations. Furthermore, we see no evidence that Telenor has undertaken the ‘credible assessment of potential adverse human rights impacts of disengagement’ from Myanmar, required under the UNGPs.  This appears to be a hurried ‘disposal’ rather than a responsible exit.

We note that Telenor Myanmar is currently the subject of a complaint accepted by the Norwegian National Contact Point (NCP) related to possible misuse by the Tatmadaw of the network tower in Alethankyaw. Companies have a responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles, ‘where they have caused or contributed to adverse impacts’, to ‘provide for or cooperate in their remediation through legitimate processes’.  If Telenor exits Myanmar it should continue to cooperate fully with this NCP process. Furthermore, as the withdrawal itself may cause or contribute to new human rights harms, the potential for these should first be identified through the ‘credible human rights impact assessment’ mentioned above, and this should include consideration both of how to avoid any adverse impacts and how to provide for remedy should they nonetheless occur, even if Telenor no longer has an in-country presence. 

These concerns were raised in a recent second complaint submitted to the NCP against the company by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) on behalf of 474 Myanmar-based civil society organizations. The complaint alleged that Telenor had ‘failed to conduct appropriate risk-based due diligence’, ‘failed to seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts potentially arising from the sale of its Myanmar operations’, ‘failed to meaningfully engage with relevant stakeholders’ and ‘not been transparent in its decision to disengage’. 

Our organisations are of the view that, notwithstanding our major concerns about Myanmar’s regulatory framework for telecommunications and its current application, it might still be more positive from a human rights perspective for Telenor to stay in the market, rather than sell to a buyer such as the M1 Group. We have several serious concerns about M1 Group’s acquisition of your licence, infrastructure, employees, and customers –  including their data – which are detailed below. 

We see no evidence that M1 Group intends to respect human rights.

We note that the M1 Group website does not make any reference to human rights and that M1 is not even a signatory to the most basic international standard for investment companies and private equity, the UN Principles for Responsible Investment. Nor is it a member of the UN Global Compact.  M1 Group, therefore, appears to be an investor that has not expressed even basic commitments to international human rights standards.

M1 Group does not share the commitment to transparency and stakeholder engagement which was an essential part of Telenor’s contribution to the Myanmar telecommunications market, and also does not have the experience or expertise to manage the serious and complex human rights challenges of operating in Myanmar and fulfil its responsibility to respect human rights. We are also concerned to hear from our international partners and read reports of M1 Group’s operations in other telecommunications markets.

Furthermore, through its investment in Irrawaddy Green Towers (IGT),  M1 Group is associated with military businesses which were identified in the August 2019 report of the UN’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission. This analysed the Myanmar military’s economic interests which are alleged to have enabled the most serious international crimes, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. These allegations are currently before the world’s highest courts – the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. IGT is included in the 2019 report by virtue of its willingness to have a commercial relationship with MyTel, the operator which is part-owned by the military’s Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). MEC has, since the coup, been widely sanctioned. 

M1 Group’s operations in other markets do not bode well for how they may operate in Myanmar if they took over from Telenor. M1 Group was co-founded by Najib Mikati – a former Lebanese Prime Minister and recently re-appointed as Prime Minister-delegate –  and his brother Taha Mikati. The oligarch Mikati family have not only been accused of corruption within Lebanon but have a record of entering and exploiting authoritarian markets for profits. The Mikati family’s Investcom conglomerate entered the Syrian market in 2001 soon after Bashar al-Assad took power, to operate one of two cell phone networks in Syria, MTN Syria, and has since complied with government orders’ including filtering and blocking users’ telecommunications particularly during protests to interfere with their ability to coordinate and organize. Following the sale of its Syrian outfit to a South African multinational telecommunications company, MTN Group, M1 Group remains one of the largest shareholders of MTN Group. Investcom also reportedly entered the Sudanese market in 2005, amidst continuing atrocities amounting to genocide in Darfur, and had partnered with a Yemeni businessperson with close ties to former Yemeni dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2019, Najib Mikati was charged with corruption and illicit enrichment in Lebanon. Earlier this year, the public prosecutor overseeing the case was removed in what the International Commission of Jurists termed an ‘attack on an already enfeebled judiciary’, in line with a ‘long history of utter subordination to the ruling political class in Lebanon’ – a class of which the Mikati family is part.

We note that in 2013, M1 Group bid for an operator’s licence in partnership with MTN and Amara Communications. Amara is owned by U Ne Aung who is a Politically Exposed Person (PEP) by virtue of his (deceased) father, a former General and Minister. His brother, Moe Aung, the current Commander in Chief of the Navy is a close collaborator of Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing. We would like to know what information the team conducting the sale and the Telenor Board sought or received about the actual or potential involvement of these PEPs, or other PEPs and sanctioned individuals, in the transaction.  

We are particularly concerned that Telenor’s Board may not have taken into account the risk that by deciding to embark on this sale, opportunities will open up for military-connected individuals or entities on current sanctions lists to acquire a stake, as has occurred with other divestments in Myanmar or to benefit financially, whether as a broker or as an undeclared beneficial owner. We see this risk as significantly heightened since M1 is an investment company with a questionable long-term commitment to Myanmar, rather than an established telecommunications operator, and therefore more likely to be looking to make an onward sale.  In December 2020, M1 Group, together with co-owner BluStone Management, entered an agreement to sell Irrawaddy Green Towers to another private equity player, CVC. This, together with Telenor’s highly discounted price, leads us to suspect that M1 Group may intend to resell all or part of the asset to other buyers who we believe would not pass Telenor’s due diligence. 

Taking all of this into account, we are both surprised and concerned that a company of Telenor’s standing would contemplate selling their Myanmar business, including their employees and customers, in this risky manner, to a company with no apparent commitment to transparency or human rights.

We, therefore, call upon you to cancel or pause the sale of Telenor Myanmar to M1 Global and to conduct human rights due diligence that is transparent and constitutes the ‘credible impact assessment’ called for by the UNGPs. This should obtain the views of a variety of stakeholders, particularly civil society organisations, human rights defenders and individual users who will be affected if Telenor departs. The due diligence should look at the impacts of potential buyers as well as the option and impact of remaining if satisfactory buyers cannot be identified. The results of such an assessment should be made public and accessible. Any due diligence assessment already conducted by Telenor before this recent decision to sell should also be made accessible to relevant stakeholders in a detailed manner as soon as possible. It should include consideration of how Telenor intends to redress any human rights harms linked to its past activities, or newly imposed by the company’s exit.

We further urge that Myanmar human rights defenders, activists and civil society groups be directly spoken with and consulted by the highest levels of Telenor’s decision-making members. It seems evident that in the most recent sudden decision to sell, this consultation had not been prioritised.

As you will have noted from the comments of various Myanmar stakeholders following your announcement, Telenor is a highly regarded investor in Myanmar.  However, the circumstances of this potential sale risk leaving a bitter taste, and negatively affecting Telenor’s local and global reputation as a responsible business. It will also dent the confidence of the Myanmar people that the Norwegian government, your major shareholder, is committed to the best interests of the Myanmar people. 

We remain open to consultation and eager to contribute to your efforts to respect human rights in Myanmar and beyond. 

Yours sincerely,

The undersigned organizations

  1. Access Now
  2. Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
  3. Africa Freedom of Information Center 
  4. ALTSEAN-Burma (Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma)
  5. Change Tanzania Movement
  6. Civil Rights Defenders
  7. Digital Woman Uganda
  8. Free Expression Myanmar
  9. Global Voices
  10. Global Witness
  11. Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF)
  12. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  13. Justice for Myanmar
  14. Kijiji Yeetu
  15. Last Mile4D
  16. Manushya Foundation
  17. MARUAH
  18. Media Matters for Democracy
  19. Norwegian Forum for Development and Environment (ForUM) 
  20. Open MIC (Open Media & Information Companies Initiative) 
  21. Open Net Association
  22. Organization of the Justice Campaign
  23. Paradigm Initiative
  24. PEN America
  25. Progressive Voice
  26. Ranking Digital Rights
  27. Rudi International
  28. Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
  29. Software Freedom Law Center, India (SFLC.IN)
  30. Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFENet)
  31. Securing Organizations with Automated Policymaking (SOAP)
  32. The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO)
  33. The Peace Centre
  34. Transparency International Czech Republic
  35. Transparency International Norway
  36. Ubunteam
  37. U.S. Campaign for Burma
  38. WITNESS
  39. Yemeni Organization for Development and Exchange of Technology (YODET) 
  40. Zaina Foundation

[Repost] APHR – Appointment of ASEAN envoy to Myanmar must prompt immediate action, MPs say

7 August 2021

https://aseanmp.org/2021/08/04/appointment-of-asean-envoy-to-myanmar-must-prompt-immediate-action-mps-say/

Aug 4, 2021 – ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

JAKARTA – Southeast Asian parliamentarians have responded warily to the decision by ASEAN to appoint Brunei’s Foreign Affairs Minister II Erywan Yusof as its special envoy to Myanmar, urging him to take immediate and decisive action to put an end to the military’s bloodshed and chaos. 

“While we are satisfied that ASEAN has, at last, appointed a special envoy, there are legitimate concerns with the appointment of Erywan Yusof. Let us not forget that the Minister, as the representative of ASEAN’s Chair, has led the bloc’s ineffective response so far, including a delegation to Myanmar in June, during which he not only met solely with the junta, but also pushed their narrative that elections could take place,” said Kasit Piromya, a Board Member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and former Thai Member of Parliament (MP). “It is also unnerving that a Minister of an absolute monarchy that does not abide by international human rights standards has been tasked with convincing a murderous army to respect these principles.” 

This week, Erywan Yusof, Brunei’s second minister for foreign affairs, was appointed as ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar, following several months of negotiations between the bloc and the Myanmar military junta. The role was agreed at the ASEAN Leaders’ Summit in Jakarta in April, during which Member States reached a Five-Point Consensus, which has seen little progress until this point. 

“Until now, ASEAN’s response to the ongoing crisis in Myanmar has been deeply, deeply disappointing. With this appointment ASEAN cannot hide behind the excuse of not having a Special Envoy anymore,” Piromya said. “The bloc must ensure that the new Envoy finally gives the bloc the leadership we have so desperately craved in this crisis. Not only do the Myanmar people depend on it, but so does ASEAN’s entire reputation.” 

“The Envoy must act promptly, and show skillful diplomacy to ensure he does not become a pawn in the junta’s game to pretend it is taking action, all while maintaining its grip on power and subjecting the people more and more to its oppressive rule. He cannot play into Min Aung Hlaing’s game of using ASEAN to gain international and regional legitimacy anymore, but instead must secure solutions that help the people of Myanmar reach the democracy they have spent the last six months showing the world they so desperately crave,” Piromya said. 

The new Special Envoy for Myanmar must change ASEAN’s course of action, and  immediately step up action to end violence; secure the release of all political prisoners in the country; immediately meet with Myanmar’s National Unity Government and Ethnic Armed Organization; as well as work with the UN Special Envoy and its international partners to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance to Myanmar, not through its AHA Centre nor the junta, but through independent humanitarian organisations already operating in the country, as well as ethnic health organizations and local health providers, said APHR. 


[Repost] Myanmar Six Months After The Coup: ’We Only Have Ourselves’

2 August 2021

https://www.reportingasean.net/myanmar-six-months-after-the-coup-we-only-have-ourselves/

YANGON/BANGKOK | 29 Jul 2021

You pause before picking up a call from an unknown phone number. You’re ready to change plans in a second, if explosions occur in your area or soldiers show up. When going out, you may delete the Facebook app from your phone, lest you get stopped by soldiers wanting to check your posts. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, you look for an antigen test kit before trying to get an RT-PCR test or go to hospital.

These are among the survival skills that many people in Myanmar are using these days, six months after the February military coup. Hypervigilance has become routine.

Anxiety is never too far away as they make their way through layer upon layer of crises – the political crisis sparked by the military’s ouster of the elected government on Feb 1, the economy’s breakdown amid rising poverty, and a third COVID-19 wave surging in the wake of a collapsed system for delivering public services.

“I always feel insecure wherever I go,” said one resident of Yangon, the commercial capital of this country of over 57 million people. “I dare not bring my phone because I’m scared when I hear that security forces are checking mobile phones, and they also take money. So I never take much money if I go out.”

“I’m also insecure at home because they (soldiers) can check any time and they take whatever they want,” she added.

“There are lots of things to care about when you go outside, not only the COVID third wave but also explosions, people in uniform,” agreed one artist. “Our daily lives are different compared to before, due to COVID and the coup – double trouble – in terms of work security, safety, unemployment.”

Locals say the price of some goods and medicines, food items have risen by 20 to 40%. Worries abound about the latest harvest and future ones, because farmers (80% are small farmers) depend on credit from the state and fertiliser prices have shot up by 50%. Fuel prices are reported to have nearly doubled since February.

Power outages are worrisome amid a pandemic that sees daily new cases at 4,000-5,000 and over 300 deaths daily. Cases are under-reported as testing is severely limited, and infectivity is very high: 37% of COVID-19 tests were positive, as of Jul 22. Only Mexico’s 38.1% is higher in the One World in Data global tracker.

Cash is a precious commodity, one that can be received after shelling out 6-10% commission fees to brokers and mobile apps. “Wasting our money in these horrible times” is how the owner of a small business puts it. Access to cash has become better in some cases, but long queues are common and limits on cash withdrawals remain.

Even as the pandemic rages – and has affected its ranks – Myanmar’s military has continued to arrest anti-coup protesters, those who have stayed with the civil disobedience movement that started right after the coup.

“Now I’m afraid of going outside and I dare not pick up calls from unknown people,” said one schoolteacher who continues to stay away from her work with the government. “I’m also afraid to answer calls because some officers in our department threaten and force (us) to go back to work. And I’m always afraid of the informers and spies of the military.”

For many, there is too much of the military’s presence in their lives, but too little, or none, of public governance in this catastrophe unfolding in their midst.“It is estimated that up to 90% of national government activity has ceased,” the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said in its June report on the economic fallout and food insecurity in Myanmar since the coup.

As they have learned to do under past periods of military rule, Myanmar’s people are turning to one another, forming networks of their own, to survive.

Communities have been arranging donation drives for those who have lost relatives to the pandemic or are taking care of the sick, and others who are in self-isolation. Volunteers are still driving patients to hospitals, which have run out of beds. Online groups help track supplies of medical oxygen amid the ongoing scarcity. Many share what income they make with the jobless.

DISASTER OF EPIC PROPORTIONS

But still tougher times lie ahead in what Myanmar historian Thant Myint-U calls an “economic and humanitarian disaster of epic proportions”. The economy is expected to contract by 18% in 2021, said the World Bank’s ‘Myanmar Economic Monitor’ in late July. At nearly double the 10% contraction projected in March, it is Southeast Asia’s largest such plunge. 

“As the third wave of COVID-19 outbreak struck and strict containment measures were reimposed, an even worse scenario could unfold, with poverty levels in 2022 rising to well over twice as high as they were in 2019 (22.4% in 2018/19), wiping out gains of over a decade of poverty reduction progress,” the World Bank said.

The same report said one million jobs could be lost in 2021 out of a labour force of some 25 million – and this figure excludes workers in the huge informal economy. Already, the International Labour Organization says, 3.1 million full-time equivalent jobs have been lost due to COVID-19 and containment measures.

Migrant workers and those overseas are finding it harder, and often more expensive, to send money into Myanmar, through informal channels. More than 10 million people cite remittances as an income source, says the WFP, and 40% of remittances come from abroad.

Half of households have reported cutting consumption, including food, the World Bank said. Up to 3.4 million more people are at risk of food insecurity, on top of the 2.8 million who were not getting enough food before the coup, the WFP said in its June situation report

Many pin hopes on the National Unity Government that was formed on Apr 16. With 16 ministers apart from a prime minister, the government-in-exile reports on meetings with foreign diplomats and parliamentarians, sends officials to speak at webinars. But it is struggling to gain international recognition and faces challenges around having its decisions actually carried out inside the country.

As COVID-19 took a turn for the worse in June, its health ministry opened a telemedicine channel on Facebook and formed a national committee with the health organizations of several ethnic groups, but a mechanism for a pandemic response is unclear.

“I would like to appeal to all the people of Myanmar to continue the fight bravely with the spirit of victory in mind,” said Mahn Wann Khaing Thann, NUG prime minister. “When we succeed, our government will repay and work for the establishment of a Federal Democratic Union that all people aspire to.”

THE PRESENT MOMENT

But it is the here and now that people live in – and like the COVID-19 pandemic, an end to the crisis is not within sight.

“We only have ourselves,” said a Yangon resident. “We have to take care, as much as we can, of food, medicine, oxygen, and other basic needs. The authorities can’t do anything. Unfortunately, it’s like we are waiting for the day we die.”

“I can’t sleep well at night,” confided another local. “Most of my family members are jobless right now. Even though I save money, not spending spend much money, I’m afraid that one day, I won’t be able to make it.”

(*This feature is part of the ‘Lens Southeast Asia’ series of Reporting ASEAN, supported by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.)

(END/Reporting ASEAN/Edited by J Son)


[Repost] Latest update on Myanmar by ANFREL

27 July 2021

[Repost] ANFREL Monthly Brief on Countries Under Restrictive Management – Series #3

6 July 2021

Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar & Hong Kong

June 2021

Introduction
ANFREL started publishing the monthly brief on the countries under a restrictive environment in April 2021 to provide an insight into the human rights and democracy situation in these countries. As usual, they will cover issues related to elections and civil and political rights in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar and Hong Kong.

To read the full brief, please click here.


[Repost] 2021 First Quarter News Updates from RWG

6 May 2021

Statement in Solidarity for the Restoration of Democracy and Justice in Myanmar

20 April 2021

MARUAH wishes to congratulate ASEAN for organising an ASEAN Special Summit Meeting on the 24th of April 2021 to discuss Myanmar and find a collective path to restore peace, non-violence, and democracy in the country. We state that this Special Summit is crucially important to the people in Myanmar and for ASEAN as a regional body of 10 member states. We also appreciate Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan for the discussions he had with ASEAN member states of Brunei, Indonesia[1] and Malaysia which have also been working towards this special Summit. We note that call made by ASEAN’s foreign ministers for a halt to the escalating violence and dialogue to end the crisis.[2]

But we need to underscore the importance of having a legitimate representation from Myanmar at the Special Summit meeting, as it is also part of ASEAN’s responsibility to the people in Myanmar and in ASEAN. We are of the view that this dialogue effort to negotiate for an agreement towards non-violence, peace and democracy would be derailed if Myanmar’s junta leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, is the sole representative for Myanmar. We note with concern the announcement made by Thailand that General Min Aung Hlaing is set to attend the ASEAN Special Summit meeting.[3]

The Tatmadaw’s leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, is the key person, responsible for the: coup; denunciation of last year’s legitimate elections where the National League for Democracy (NLD) had won decisively and fairly; ongoing violent assaults on people, continued air raids targeting ethnic groups and the severe restrictions and censorship imposed on the people. The net result is one that shows Myanmar’s people fleeing to other countries, an internal humanitarian crisis, of more than 700 civilians, including 50 children,[4] having been killed by Myanmar’s security forces since February 1st and the possibility of a civil war as 10 of Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups [5]have recently thrown their support behind the movement for democracy, peace and free and fair elections.

Hence, we state that recognising Gen Min Aung Hlaing as Myanmar’s political leader to be the sole representative at the Special Summit, would be a travesty to the rule of law, the principles spelt out in the ASEAN Charter and a gross injustice, a betrayal, to the people in Myanmar, many of whom are willing to die for their country.

We ask instead that the Special Summit asks for representatives from: the National Unity Government (NUG) that has been formed;[6] the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) which is a body formed of elected lawmakers from Myanmar’s ousted civilian government; and the tatmawdaw. This way it also anchors ASEAN as the neutral mediator focused on key political players being at the dialogues. It is also an opportunity for ASEAN to establish itself as the regional body that endorses peace, harmony and democracy in the region as also endorsed in the preamble of the 1976 Treaty of the Amity And Cooperation in Southeast Asia.[7]

In summary, we urge that this ASEAN Special Summit does:

  • include representatives from Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG) and Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH)
  • explicitly state that General Min Aung Hlaing is attending as a representative of the Tatmadaw, not as leader of Myanmar
  • make a clear stand that ASEAN is functioning by the Responsibility to Protect principles and its principles for peace, democracy, and rule of law.

Statement issued by MARUAH Secretariat
20th April 2021


[1] https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/vivian-balakrishnan-meets-indonesian-counterpart-retno-marsudi-in-jakarta

[2] https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/asean-coup-03022021134500.html

[3] https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/myanmars-junta-leader-confirmed-to-attend-asean-meeting-thai-foreign-minister

[4] https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/myanmar-activists-vow-week-of-protests-during-new-year-holidays

[5] https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/myanmar-rebel-groups-back-anti-coup-protests-condemn-junta-crackdown

[6] https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/whos-myanmars-national-unity-government.html

[7] “CONVINCED that the settlement of differences or disputes between their countries should be regulated by rational, effective and sufficiently flexible procedures, avoiding negative attitudes which might endanger or hinder cooperation; BELIEVING in the need for cooperation with all peace-loving nations, both within and outside Southeast Asia, in the furtherance of world peace, stability and harmony;”. https://asean.org/treaty-amity-cooperation-southeast-asia-indonesia-24-february-1976/


[Repost] ANFREL’s Monthly Brief on Countries under Restrictive Environment

13 April 2021

ANFREL will start publishing this brief to provide an insight into the human rights and democracy situation in the countries facing democratic regression. In this series, they have covered Cambodia, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Hong Kong. Please click on the image below to access the full brief.


In Solidarity for the Restoration of Democracy in Myanmar: A Call to ASEAN

8 April 2021

8th April 2021

By: Tan Yi Han*

Seven year old Khin Myo Chit was sitting on her father’s lap in her home when soldiers killed her. Thinzar Hein was a nursing student who was treating injured protestors at protest sites when she was shot in the head by soldiers. Sixteen year old Kyaw Min Latt was cycling with two others when soldiers in a passing vehicle shot him. 

More than 500 civilians have been killed since the Myanmar military, the Tatmadaw, seized power on 1 February 2021. The highest toll – 141 lost their lives in one day of 27 March. The escalating violence represents not only a humanitarian crisis but threatens regional peace, stability and prosperity. 

ASEAN cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this tragedy. The leaders of ASEAN must act decisively to help Myanmar return peacefully to a democratically-elected civilian government. 

ASEAN has taken encouraging first steps. A statement conveyed by ASEAN Chair, Brunei, summarising the meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers, urged for a “peaceful solution” to the crisis. Also deserving of applause are individual statements issued by Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore urging Myanmar’s military rulers to free Suu Kyi and other political leaders who have been arrested. 

Thailand has called for ASEAN to adopt a “collective stand” on Myanmar. That could happen via the high-level ASEAN meeting of Southeast-Asian leaders proposed by Indonesian President Joko Widodo. It is encouraging that Singapore actively supports such a proposal. as stated by the Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 

The Myanmar general election on 8 November 2020, won decisively by the National League for Democracy (NLD), had been praised by election monitors for being a peaceful process and that it was free of major irregularities. The Tatmadaw has a right to raise concerns on the election.  In fact the Union Solidarity Development Party  had filed their complaints in court, making it unnecessary an illegal to resort to violence. The coup and subsequent killings call into question the Tatmadaw’s claim to be defending the Constitution and the will of the people. 

The anti-coup movement continues to grow despite the brutal crackdown, suggesting that the coup is widely condemned by the people of Myanmar. Meanwhile, 10 of Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups have thrown their support behind the anti-coup movement. All signs point to a protracted conflict and further escalation of violence.

The peaceful transition to democracy in 2015 had led to a friendly environment for economic investments, including from fellow ASEAN countries. In fact, Singapore has been the largest investor in the country, with US$24.1 billion in approved foreign capital. The coup is therefore not only disastrous for the country’s economic recovery, but also for the entire region’s economy.

Many from ethnic groups and villagers are fleeing the violence, becoming refugees. What is often forgotten is the pandemic and that Covid-19 is still rife. The Chinese city of Ruili near the Myanmar border has already seen an outbreak of Covid.

The gestures made by ASEAN and some of the countries in ASEAN cannot remain as just the spoken word. In fact, there has been success when ASEAN’s engagement effort, among other efforts, helped to pave the way towards Myanmar’s political reforms under Prime Minister (and later President) Thein Sein, leading eventually, to a peaceful transition of power to a democratically-elected civilian-led government in 2015. 

ASEAN must endeavour to use its unique position and relationship with Myanmar to positively influence the Tatmadaw and mediate between the key political stakeholders: the Tatmadaw, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, and representatives from the ethnic minorities. 

For negotiations to be successful, however, all parties must see it as the best way forward. That means that ASEAN must make a clear stand that while the Tatmadaw is a key stakeholder in Myanmar, it does not represent the people nor the government of Myanmar. Only decisions collectively agreed by Myanmar’s key political stakeholders should be recognised. 

ASEAN is the best hope for the people of Myanmar. I urge the leaders of ASEAN to:

  • Hold as soon as possible a high-level ASEAN meeting of Southeast-Asian leaders to discuss the Myanmar crisis and adopt a collective stand towards addressing the conflict.
  • Facilitate dialogue between Myanmar’s key political stakeholders;
  • Make a clear stand the Tatmadaw does not represent the people or government of Myanmar, and only collective decisions via peaceful negotiations will be recognised.

ASEAN can do it again. It needs to. ASEAN must.

Further References:

https://www.e-ir.info/2012/02/08/asean-and-the-principle-of-non-interference/

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/myanmar-coup-asean-non-interference-vivian-bakakrisnan-singapore-14263056

https://opinion.inquirer.net/138046/asean-must-help-myanmars-return-to-democracy

*Opinion Writer for MARUAH

*Edited & Approved by MARUAH


Joint Declaration of the Southeast Asian People-to-People Region Hall on the Crisis in Myanmar

8 April 2021

Please click on the screen shot above for the full statement.