Published 11 October 2021 – https://www.thejakartapost.com/paper/2021/10/10/asean-summit-without-myanmars-sac.html
The writer is representative of Indonesia to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).
The 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits are just about two weeks away from now. According to the ASEAN Charter, the summit is the supreme policy-making body and mechanism to address emergency situations affecting ASEAN.
Among other issues concerning the strengthening of the ASEAN community and centrality, the member states will also discuss the political crisis in Myanmar and the progress in the implementation of the five-point consensus agreed upon by ASEAN leaders and the Myanmar junta leader.
In the ASEAN Community Council (ACC) meeting on Oct. 4, the foreign ministers hinted at the possibility of excluding Myanmar in the next summit.
They expressed their disappointment with the lack of cooperation on the part of Myanmar’s State Administration Council (SAC) and its slow progress in implementing the five-point consensus. The matter will be further consulted with the nine ASEAN leaders in the next summit to guide how to move forward with the SAC.
Suspending the right of a member state to participate in the ASEAN summit has not been a practice in ASEAN. However, in 2006, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) – senior dignitaries who gave recommendations on the drafting of the ASEAN Charter – had suggested that ASEAN consider provisions to redress a member’s noncompliance to the objectives, principles and commitments under the Charter and ASEAN agreements.
Such measures include temporary suspension of rights and privileges of membership, like withholding the right to participate in ASEAN activities, and from chairing ASEAN bodies and their meetings.
Myanmar was once prevented from chairing ASEAN in 2006 due to the possibility of Western countries boycotting the ASEAN meetings in a show of protest against human rights violations in Myanmar.
Skipping the role as a chair in ASEAN means Myanmar loses its strategic opportunities to build the country’s socioeconomic progress and democratic transition, to gain political legitimacy and to be considered a responsible member of the international community.
Realizing the purpose of ASEAN requires collective efforts from all committed member states. ASEAN needs unity and to strengthen its membership capacity to address the changing geostrategic environment we are in now. An irresponsible member who undermines regional commitments and agreements will not take ASEAN anywhere. Surely, ASEAN has no time for this.
Temporarily halting the participation of the SAC in the summit serves the interest of strengthening the ASEAN Community, but some member states may have different opinions and may create a situation where there is no consensus.
Article 20 of the ASEAN Charter provides a provision that allows the ASEAN Summit to make a decision should consensus not be reached. One of the options is by applying a majority voting mechanism, as suggested by the EPG.
Six months have passed since the ASEAN Leaders Meeting and we have continued to witness the escalation of violence with no sign it will end any time soon.
The media have also reported that the security forces frequently used flash grenades, batons, rubber bullets and tear gas against protesters, which has resulted in many injuries The SAC aims to obtain a certain level of power and authoritative control over the population and jurisdiction by committing violence against civilians.
In my capacity as a representative of Indonesia to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), I received reports on some of the tactics that have been used by the military. One of them is known locally as Pyat Ley Pyat (four cuts strategy).
This strategy was initially applied in the 1960s by the military to fight the Communist Party of Burma and the Karen National Union, which involved restricting access to food, funds, intelligence and recruits, aiming to make the support base of armed resistance starve and turn civilians against resistance groups.
Currently, the cutting includes foods, supplies, communication and recruits with the purpose of making the people and resistance group hungry, disconnected from the world, unable to mobilize, unheard, unrecognized and invisible.
This strategy has been accompanied by internet and phone blackouts, water and electricity cuts and forced displacement. Furthermore, as reported by Save the Children in its press release on Oct. 4, more than 76,000 children in Myanmar have been forced to leave their homes since the coup on Feb. 1.
Women political prisoners reportedly experienced sexual violence and gendered harassment. Some women gave birth in the forest to save their lives and their babies.
Another report mentioned that the military attacked healthcare workers, journalists and protesters. In some areas, people have been prevented from evacuating after the military attacks.
I presented the reports in the AICHR meetings through the specific agenda concerning the region’s recent development on human rights as well as in the Interface Meeting between the ASEAN Minister Meeting and AICHR in September.
I have often reached out to civic groups in Myanmar to listen to their grievances and organized a series of regional consultations together with AICHR Malaysia and Thailand as well as with national human rights institutions in the region.
Nevertheless, ASEAN has been criticized by the public for being slow in its response and indecisive, which has contributed to the suffering of the people in Myanmar.
It is no longer enough to demonstrate the non-recognition position to the SAC through symbolic expressions such as excluding the traditional mention of “we the ministers” at the beginning of the Joint Communique of the 54th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting to convey the message that the grouping did not recognize the representative of the SAC as the foreign minister of Myanmar.
ASEAN member states have to take the right position and decision in the summit. ASEAN must do the right thing for the people in Myanmar and listen to the voices and concerns of the people in Myanmar demanding democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights.
It is time for ASEAN to get firm and be on the right side of history.