Monday, September 11, 2017

ASEAN 'usefullness' becomes evident in how it deals with Myanmar's Rohingya issue?

ASEAN - The uselessness of ASEAN comes to the forefront, when ASEAN keeps rather silent about what is happening to the  'ethnic Rohingya' in ASEAN. It is no use developing Human Rights standards, declarations, commitments, etc - but not abiding by it or using it. 

As members of the ASEAN Community of people, I am ashamed that our governments and ASEAN itself has not spoken out and/or acted to end these possible violation of rights happening a segment of the ASEAN community.

AICHR - ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights continues with its debates, workshops and usual work, and is yet to comment on the Rohingya situation and the Myanmar government's response. A community, like a family, requires prompt reprimands when a member of the family does something wrong...likewise, 'silence' and 'indifference' to the wrongdoings of a member nation to the wrongs being done by a member nation, undermines the object of being an ASEAN community of people.

ASEAN’s non-intervention approach

Myanmar has insisted that the problems in the Rakhine State are a domestic matter. Within ASEAN, countries commonly refrain from intervening in domestic issues. 

But ASEAN’s state-centric nature has prevented the regional organisation from protecting the rights of all people in the region.

The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), the main human rights institution in the region, could not even form an investigation committee to look into the problem. This is because, according to AICHR’s Terms of Reference, the commission does not have any mandate to carry out such an investigation. Any decision made by the commission should be accepted by all state representatives.

ASEAN members’ non-intervention approach has effectively blocked ASEAN’s own institutions – AICHR and the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance (AHA) Centre – from protecting human rights. -
Being part of ASEAN seems to stifled the ability of member nations, including Malaysia, from highlighting human rights violations in other ASEAN member countries. Could we then argue, that if this is the consequence, maybe Malaysia and other countries that places greater importance on human rights should really consider leaving ASEAN and regain their freedom to highlight rights violations - and better promote Human Rights in ASEAN and the world?

Many people, including Civil Society Organsations(CSOs) and Human Rights Defenders have expended much resources, monies and time in the hope that ASEAN will transform into a community of nations and people where human rights and justice exist. We have highlighted human rights violations and injustices that happen in some ASEAN countries, with the hope that ASEAN will act and do something to address these concerns, but alas there seems to be just indifference...a desire to not even advice a member nation to be in compliance with many of ASEAN's own pronouncements and declaration on human rights.

When one highlights a wrong being done by a member of a community, it is really an act of concern and 'love' - a desire that one will stop the wrong doing and become a better member of the community. At the United Nations, there are periodic reviews of member nation's compliance with UN's human rights standards and positions, where other countries speak out freely and make recommendations as to what should be done. Alas, not so in ASEAN.

ASEAN silence in the face of human rights violations in member country only affects the image of member makes us look 'bad' - It can be said, that it makes us 'accomplices' ...maybe also guilty for what continues to happen in Myanmar or any other country in the ASEAN.

We need an ASEAN Human Rights Commission, that is free to investigate and make recommendations to member nations where they discover things happening that is inconsistent with ASEAN human rights standards. ASEAN member nations need to check one another to ensure that human rights and justice reigns supreme in ASEAN.

ASEAN standards must also be legally enforceable - individuals in ASEAN must be able to depend on these rights that ASEAN has adopted, and be able to enforce these rights - maybe even an ASEAN Human Rights Court...

For the Rohingya issue - maybe ASEAN, maybe the AICHR, should immediately have a Fact Finding Mission, and maybe also an ASEAN Peace Keeping force is needed to be present in the Rakhine Region - just to ensure peace and also that victim's welfare is taken care of. ASEAN may also want to begin an attempt a dialogue towards resolution of the problems in Rakhine State...ASEAN can do much more than what it is doing now...

...In Myanmar, another brutal security operation is underway in Rakhine State – this time, apparently on a far greater scale. 

According to UNHCR, in less than three weeks over 270,000 people have fled to Bangladesh, three times more than the 87,000 who fled the previous operation. Many more people reportedly remain trapped between Myanmar and Bangladesh. The operation, which is ostensibly in reaction to attacks by militants on 25 August against 30 police posts, is clearly disproportionate and without regard for basic principles of international law. We have received multiple reports and satellite imagery of security forces and local militia burning Rohingya villages, and consistent accounts of extrajudicial killings, including shooting fleeing civilians...

I am further appalled by reports that the Myanmar authorities have now begun to lay landmines along the border with Bangladesh, and to learn of official statements that refugees who have fled the violence will only be allowed back if they can provide “proof of nationality”. Given that successive Myanmar governments have since 1962 progressively stripped the Rohingya population of their political and civil rights, including citizenship rights – as acknowledged by Aung San Suu Kyi's own appointed Rakhine Advisory Commission – this measure resembles a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return.

Last year I warned that the pattern of gross violations of the human rights of the Rohingya suggested a widespread or systematic attack against the community, possibly amounting to crimes against humanity, if so established by a court of law. Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed, but the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing

The Myanmar Government should stop claiming that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages. This complete denial of reality is doing great damage to the international standing of a Government which, until recently, benefited from immense good will. I call on the Government to end its current cruel military operation, with accountability for all violations that have occurred and to reverse the pattern of severe and widespread discrimination against the Rohingya population. I strongly urge the authorities to allow my Office unfettered access to the country....- Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,11/9/2017

For Immediate Release
8 September 2017

Stop Genocide – Push for Intervention Now
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) welcomes the decision by Khairy Jamaluddin to engage with the Myanmar embassy with regards to the persecution and killing of ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine, Myanmar.

Given the urgency and gravity of the situation faced by Rohingya and others in Rakhine state at this present moment, it is of paramount importance for all stakeholders to set aside political differences and act together and immediately to stop the genocide. Failure to act at this crucial juncture would condemn the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya and others to further forced displacement, violence, deprivation and possible death.

As a member of the cabinet, Khairy Jamaluddin must go beyond merely meeting with the United Nations office in Malaysia and the Myanmar embassy. Instead, he must be part of an immediate Malaysian Government collective cabinet decision which will result in the Government of Malaysia taking a strong lead in addressing the issue of genocide in Rakhine state and the urgent need to protect thousands of innocent civilians, including but not confined to the urgent delivery of much-needed humanitarian aid.

To this end, SUARAM calls for the Government of Malaysia to:
1) demand all sides stop the violence with immediate effect.

2) urge all fellow ASEAN members to insist the Myanmar government honours its commitments to the ASEAN Charter, the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights, and all other ASEAN and international instruments to which Myanmar is a signatory. This will mean an immediate cessation of violence, the proactive protection of all civilians against displacement and violence, the guaranteed safe return of all those displaced by the violence and the securement of their land and help with rebuilding their communities, and the provision of basic necessities to everyone, including those in IDP Camps.

3) to call upon fellow ASEAN governments, the international community and other partners, to support the Myanmar government and the Bangladesh government in providing essential and urgent humanitarian aid to the hundreds of thousands displaced, including those who have fled into the Bangladesh and/or are at the border area with Bangladesh, as well as to Rohingya and others still in Arakan state, including in the IDP Camps.

4) to make sure that ASEAN members and the international community come together to support the Myanmar government with immediate effect in translating the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission Report on Rakhine state into practice. These recommendations include the guaranteeing of citizenship rights and form a ready-made roadmap for a secure and safe future for all in Rakhine state.

5) to call upon Aung Suu Kyi and her government in Myanmar to allow independent monitors into all areas, to assess humanitarian need and to assess any responsibility for any crimes committed in the course of the violence. If, as she maintains, her government and military have done nothing wrong, this should not be a problem.

In Solidarity
Sevan Doraisamy
Executive Director

Resolving the Rohingya crisis the Asean way: The Jakarta Post columnist

A view of burned down houses at the Myoma KaNyinTan muslim quarter in Maungdaw township, Rakhine State, western Myanmar on Sept 6, 2017. 
Yulies Puspitaningtyas

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Said to be one of the most oppressed communities in the world, the Rohingya, an ethnic minority group in Myanmar, have experienced discrimination and injustice for decades.

The case has increasingly garnered international attention since boats carrying Rohingya were denied entry to Thailand's and Malaysia's coasts in May 2015, resulting in humanitarian outrage from concerned global citizens. To date, humanitarian resolution to end the deplorable conditions of the Rohingya has barely made progress.

Despite its complexity, this unavailing attempt is partly contributed by misconceptions of the root causes of the crisis. It is also important to study the evolution of the Asean and the impact of its political behaviour on Myanmar, which can give the group an opportunity to alleviate the plight of the Rohingya.

The ethics behind the humanitarian imperative is undeniably true. This protracted crisis facing the Rohingya indeed calls for immediate action. However, provisioning humanitarian relief without understanding and addressing the root causes of deep-seated discrimination against the Rohingya may only prolong suffering as the crises persist.

Jacques P. Leider, a historian known for his expertise in Rakhine studies, found that in most cases, the situation involving the Rohingya has been mischaracterised, with the global media pitching narrowed legal and humanitarian aspects only.

Among the world community, the Rohingya is referred to as an ethnic Muslim group living in Rakhine State. 

This shallow conclusion not only overlooks the diversity of the group (ethnic origins and social backgrounds), it also leads to ethnic or religion-driven discrimination and abuse.

In fact, the root cause of the crisis is the Rohingya's legitimacy embedded in their history, ethnicity and cultural identity.

It is the 1982 law on citizenship that sustains the structural oppression against the Rohingya. Denying the group's claim for citizenship, this law also disproportionately restricts the Rohingya's access to social services, such as healthcare, education and employment.

Children, girls and women are particularly the most vulnerable to sexual abuse, violence and human trafficking.

Abject poverty, injustice and increasing violence have been the motives behind massive migration of Rohingya to become economic migrants in neighbouring countries. This is where the Rohingya crisis has a spillover effect across the region.

Asean, of which Myanmar became a member in 1997, contributes to changing the political behaviour of its member states.

The Asean's distinct approach with its non-interference norms seems to fit in with the foreign policies of most Asean countries. For that reason, the Asean has taken a neutral stance over alleged human rights abuses carried out by the Myanmar military junta.

Over time, the Asean's approach to deal with shared issues that potentially impact the region has evolved. 

Internal conflicts and major disasters across borders, which potentially affect regional human security, such as the influx of refugees, epidemics, are no longer seen as national matters, but rather human rights issues.

Cyclone Nargis, which hit South and Southeast Asian countries in 2008 is an example.

Its catastrophic destruction mostly affected Myanmar and was a critical milestone in the Asean's new way of dealing with humanitarian crises.

Dubbed the first-ever Asean-led response, this approach was then considered exemplary for other interstate, joint efforts.

Diplomatic Asean measures that successfully convinced Myanmar's military junta to accept international humanitarian assistance was one of Asean's pivotal roles in humanitarian action.

In the following years, the Asean Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Center) has grown as a new interstate apparatus that deals with disasters, humanitarian impact and other relevant issues.

More importantly, this evolvement eventually promoted humanitarian and protection issues as regional affairs.

Despite its improvement, the fact that the AHA Center deliberately chooses to work only when natural disasters strike and exclude other complex humanitarian issues such as conflict and man-induced emergencies, has resulted in the slow progress of alleviating the Rohingya crisis.

Yet, talking about human suffering should not detach the analysis from its underlying, complex contributors: natural hazards, conflict and fragility. These three root causes are well fitted into the context of the Rohingya.

Therefore, the provision of humanitarian assistance has to incorporate conflict prevention, state building and mainstreaming risk management. Overlooking these considerations may result in an ineffective response.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) Report titled "When Disasters and Conflicts Collide" discusses the role of humanitarian actors, including government and non-governmental organisations, in promoting the effectiveness of humanitarian response.

It is important to draw a distinction between affected states that are willing but unable, and those that are unwilling and unable to reduce the vulnerability of its population to disaster risks and humanitarian impact.

The outcome of this power analysis will certainly result in an appropriate strategy for humanitarian actions, and more importantly, guarantee protection for the most vulnerable and marginalised population.

For the Rohingya, it is nearly impossible to claim their civil and social rights for protection from the government of Myanmar, who denies them their rights.

As presently outcry and condemnation toward the Myanmar government could risk incoming humanitarian assistance at the expense of the Rohingya, the Asean should maintain its mediatory role and buffering other organisations or state members that employ a bolder approach to the crisis, such as the United Nations and Indonesia.

Malaysia's direct confrontation, as evinced when Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned the Myanmar government on the ground of human rights abuses and questioned credibility of Myanmar's Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, was proven ineffective.

Learning from that, the Indonesian government took diplomatic action by approaching key influential leaders at regional and international levels.

Among other urgent actions, ensuring protection for the Rohingya is imperative. The AHA Center is technically competent to coordinate protection for humanity.

Moreover, reinforcing a comprehensive risk analysis into Asean's Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) framework can institutionalise discourse and analysis about risks, protection, vulnerability and human rights.

Fostering sustainable resolution for the Rohingya by any means, including through the facilitation of proper institutional dialogues between the government of Myanmar, ethnic minorities and Rohingya's militias, should be sought in order to resolve underlying legitimacy issues facing the Rohingya.

All in all, tackling such a complex humanitarian situation such as the crisis has to be conducted by changing the political and societal structure, which requires a thorough analysis and smart diplomatic moves.

The writer is an emergency response specialist at Plan International Indonesia.

ASEAN countries should find a solution to end the persecution of Rohingya

The Rohingya are one the of the world’s most-persecuted ethnic minorities
ASEAN’s non-intervention is aggravating the plight of ethnic Rohingya Muslims suffering widespread abuse by the Burmese military in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The Rohingya are one the of the world’s most persecuted ethnic minorities.

Human Rights Watch reported the Burmese military launched a campaign of killings, rape and arson against ethnic Rohingya following attacks by militants against government border guards in Rakhine State on October 9, 2016. HRW reported in December that, since the day of the attack, at least 1,500 homes have been burned in retaliation, displacing thousands of Rohingya people.

The United Nations has expressed concern about the military operations against the Rohingya. One UNHCR official reportedly called the attacks “ethnic cleansing”. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, Yanghee Lee, is visiting Rakhine State. But the Myanmar government is denying her access to some areas and reportedly only allows her to speak with individuals it has pre-approved.

In a closed-door meeting in Yangoon in December, ASEAN’s foreign ministers discussed the violence following the October attack. But they avoided talking about the issue in human rights terms

Among leaders of ASEAN member states, only Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, has condemned the violence in Myanmar. He described the military operations as “genocide”. 

In Indonesia, despite pressure from rights groups and Muslim groups in the country, President Joko Widodo stopped short of condemning Myanmar, but offered humanitarian aid to Rohingya refugees.

Regional problem

The persecution of ethnic Rohingya is a regional and global problem. Thousands of stateless Rohingya fleeing persecution end up in refugee camps in Bangladesh or become victims of human trafficking. They have been held ransom in death camps in Thailand and Malaysia, and sold to work in plantations or on fishing boats.

In 2015, a crackdown against human traffickers in Thailand prompted traffickers to abandon their boats.

Thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were left stranded in the Andaman Sea. The plight of the Rohingya people hence become a regional problem, sparking debate among Southeast Asian leaders.

At least 1,500 homes of ethnic Rohingya have been burned since October 2016. Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Where do Rohingya belong?

Historically, the Rohingya people have inhabited Burmese lands for hundreds of years. This dates back to before the British colonial age in Myanmar, which began in 1824. But the Burmese mostly still view the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

When Myanmar gained independence from the British in 1948, it enacted a citizenship law that excluded the Rohingya people as one of the country’s many ethnicities. Almost 140,000 Rohingya people have been displaced and between 800,000 and 1.3 million Rohingyas are without citizenship.

Bangladesh, which borders Myanmar, also does not accept them, although thousands have escaped and sought refuge in Cox Bazaar, a border town within the country.

ASEAN’s non-intervention approach

Myanmar has insisted that the problems in the Rakhine State are a domestic matter. Within ASEAN, countries commonly refrain from intervening in domestic issues.

But ASEAN’s state-centric nature has prevented the regional organisation from protecting the rights of all people in the region.

The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), the main human rights institution in the region, could not even form an investigation committee to look into the problem. This is because, according to AICHR’s Terms of Reference, the commission does not have any mandate to carry out such an investigation. Any decision made by the commission should be accepted by all state representatives.

ASEAN members’ non-intervention approach has effectively blocked ASEAN’s own institutions – AICHR and the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance (AHA) Centre – from protecting human rights.

Despite the change of political regime in Myanmar – with the appointment of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as de-facto prime minister – the persecution of the Rohingya continues. Soe Zeya Tun

Forging a caring and sharing ASEAN community

Talks among ASEAN leaders are often limited to political and economic issues, pushing problems with deep social and cultural roots like the persecution of ethnic Rohingya to the margins.

This should not be the case. Since 2015, ASEAN member states have agreed to establish the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, with the aim of forging a common identity and building a caring and sharing society in the region. ASEAN states adopted the ASEAN Vision 2025, which put forward the idea of a “people-centred” and “people-oriented” ASEAN in the upcoming decade.

Forging a common platform for socio-cultural regionalism should not leave out state protection of human rights. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that the state bears responsibility to protect basic individual rights. Therefore, the idea of an ASEAN that’s people-oriented must go hand-in-hand with the protection of human rights.

Yet, to date, ASEAN member states have not discussed a “people-oriented” mechanism to resolve the Rohingya crisis. 

ASEAN member states should discuss the crisis in the upcoming ASEAN summit in the Philippines. ASEAN should combine these diplomatic talks with non-state initiatives, such as advocacy networks and humanitarian organisations.

We could learn from community initiatives in dealing with the Andaman Sea crisis in 2015. When governments were slow to rescue Rohingya and Bangladeshi people languishing on boats off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province, the local fishing community saved them from drowning. NGOs gave the refugees shelter. The strong role of non-governmental organisations and community-based initiatives to deal with humanitarian issues prompted the governments to sit down and find a solution.

ASEAN has equipped itself with various institutional mechanisms that encompass political security, economic, social and cultural dimensions. This means that ASEAN should not only deal with matters relating to economic growth and a free ASEAN market. It should also tackle issues relating to multiculturalism, be that religion, national identity, or ethnicity. Otherwise, we will only be waiting for Godot to end the persecution of ethnic Rohingya. - The Conversation

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