ASEAN is scheduled to hold a special ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting (AFMM) on Tuesday (2 Mar) to discuss the deteriorating situation in Myanmar in the aftermath of the military junta’s illegal seizure of power.
In a joint statement on Monday (1 Mar), the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and its members from Myanmar – namely Progressive Voice and Equality Myanmar – asserted that the AFMM should be utilised by ASEAN as “an opportunity to take genuine and meaningful actions to call out the horrific acts of the Myanmar military and to explore a possibility to generate a regional response to address the situation”.
“The ASEAN response to the crisis must align with UN Human Rights Council’s stance on rejecting the coup, de-escalating the military junta’s brutality, ensuring the safety of those who oppose the military as well as ensuring the fulfilment of their rights, and imposing targeted economic sanctions against military leaders, military-linked entities and cronies,” said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, executive director at FORUM-ASIA.
Since the Myanmar military illegitimately seized power on 1 February, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has documented at least 1,132 people to have been arbitrarily arrested, charged, or sentenced.
On 28 February alone, the military’s deliberate acts of extreme violence against peaceful protesters had killed 18 people and wounded at least 30.
Hundreds of civil society organisations from Myanmar have jointly condemned the coup and the grave violations and abuses perpetrated by the military, and have sought immediate intervention and monitoring mechanisms from the UN Security Council to stop the violence being inflicted by the military junta against peaceful protesters.
Additionally, they have called on the Security Council to prevent further bloodshed and loss of life, and pressure the junta to release all those arbitrarily detained and to restore democracy in Myanmar.
On 19 February, 69 civil society organisations across Southeast Asia issued ASEAN an open letter to demand a response to the situation in Myanmar.
They called for ASEAN to urge the military junta to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained, refrain from using violence against protesters, and ensure the safety and security of people in Myanmar, including pro-democracy activist, human rights defenders, journalists, and youth protesters.
“ASEAN’s response must comply with the Myanmar’s peoples’ aspiration and the stance made by civil society in the region,” said Aung Myo Min, executive director at Equality Myanmar.
While the groups acknowledged efforts made by ASEAN on addressing the situation in Myanmar – through a statement from the ASEAN Chairman, individual Member States, as well as the statements from four individual representatives from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) – uncertainty remains if the regional body’s actions will reflect the will of the people of Myanmar.
“It also remains to be seen if the responses from the UN Security Council and international mechanisms addressing the urgent situation in Myanmar are taken into account. Given the severity of the situation, the fact that five ASEAN Member States, namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Vietnam, are either unwilling to ‘interfere’ or demonstrate persistent silence under the pretext of respecting Myanmar’s ‘internal affairs’, is alarming,” they added.
The groups went on to say that what has happened in the Myanmar is “symptomatic of a backsliding democracy and rising authoritarianism” happening across Southeast Asia, with “further implications of a deteriorating civic space and human rights protection in the region”.
With the differing positions among its Member States, they are concerned that a “compromised ASEAN-led approach will further harm democracy and exacerbate the lack of protection of human rights in Myanmar and the region”, as a result of a consensus-oriented ASEAN dialogue.
The groups reiterated that the decreasing trust in ASEAN are attributed to its “failure to meet this crucial moment, take action, and its persistent silence and weak position on addressing the prolonged crises in Myanmar”, including the Rohingya crisis perpetrated by the same military regime that has unlawfully seized power.
“Finding a solution that aligns with the will of the people of Myanmar and international mechanisms to meaningfully address the situation and recognise Myanmar people’s brave and unwavering sacrifices to restore democracy, rule of law and protection of their human rights and dignity are essential to regain the public’s trust in ASEAN,” said Nang Zun Moe, executive director at Progressive Voice.