Malaysia should call an Emergency Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to address the root causes of the region’s migrant crisis, including the systematic persecution of the Rohingya population by the Myanmar government, Southeast Asian lawmakers said today.
JAKARTA, 28 May 2015 – Malaysia should call an Emergency Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to address the root causes of the region’s migrant crisis, including the systematic persecution of the Rohingya population by the Myanmar government, Southeast Asian lawmakers said today.
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said particular onus was on Malaysia to lead efforts to convey the seriousness of the situation to the Myanmar government, and use its position as Chair of ASEAN as well as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council to galvanize regional and international commitment to press the Naypyitaw to reverse its policies of persecution and grant basic citizenship rights to the Rohingya. The emergency summit should also include other relevant governments, including Bangladesh.
ASEAN must consider all its options for convincing the Myanmar government to end the persecution of the Rohingya, including expelling or suspending it from the grouping if it fails to deliver
“Myanmar’s refusal to recognize the fundamental human right to self identity speaks volumes about the problem and the time for hiding behind the veil of non-interference is over,” said Charles Santiago, Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and Malaysian Member of Parliament.
“ASEAN must consider all its options for convincing the Myanmar government to end the persecution of the Rohingya, including expelling or suspending it from the grouping if it fails to deliver.”
APHR’s call comes on the eve of an international meeting in Bangkok to discuss “irregular migration in the Indian Ocean”, which the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said will “provide a platform to exchange information and views in addressing the unprecedented increase of irregular migration by sea”. Myanmar had threatened to boycott the meeting if it used the term Rohingya.
APHR commended the Thai government for taking an initial step to address the problem of human trafficking in Southeast Asia, but warned that any outcomes from the forum must be seized upon immediately, with difficult but urgent decisions required at the highest levels of government.
The meeting must come up with a binding agreement to destroy the illegal trafficking network in Southeast Asia as well as deliver a clear report on the numbers of migrants and asylum seekers and details on search and rescue operations. Another key output must be a plan of action for seeking a sustainable solution that will see citizenship rights returned to Rohingya.
If those who are participating in the meeting bow to Myanmar’s refusal to discuss the issue, they become accomplices – and the gathering will end up contributing to the problem, not seeking a solution to it
“ASEAN governments have time and again refused to address the root cause of the Rohingya exodus. If those who are participating in the meeting bow to Myanmar’s refusal to discuss the issue, they become accomplices – and the gathering will end up contributing to the problem, not seeking a solution to it,” Santiago said.
Myanmar’s protracted culture of abuse not only threatens the country’s political transition, but also puts strains on regional economies and supports the rise of extremist ideologies that pose potential security threats throughout the region. Myanmar’s refusal to discuss these concerns undermines the interests of ASEAN member states and threatens the grouping’s future sustainability, APHR warned.
On the eve of the ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur in April, APHR released a report, The Rohingya Crisis and the Risk of Atrocities in Myanmar: An ASEAN Challenge and Call to Action, highlighting these very same concerns. The report concluded that nearly every common risk factor for atrocity crimes identified in the United Nations’ Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes is present in Myanmar today.
The collective of lawmakers from the region also published an open letter to ASEAN heads of state stressing the need for the Rohingya crisis to be addressed at the regional level. The call followed a similar request made to ASEAN Foreign Minsters in January ahead of their retreat in Langkawi, Malaysia.
“All our governments are culpable in this horrific tragedy and they cannot hide behind faux ignorance any longer,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, former Thai Senator and board member of APHR.
“Myanmar’s military leaders have shown themselves time and again to be ruthless and violent. The situation in Myanmar today is one of extreme seriousness – Buddhist monks and other extremist are freely preaching hate speech and nonsense about Muslims taking over the country, while the government strips people of their basic rights through old and new legislation that are incompatible with international human rights law. The situation is absurd, highly volatile and almost entirely the making of the Burmese government which has allowed and encouraged this extreme nationalism and ethnic bigotry.”
APHR highlighted a number of key issues that needed to be addressed at the Bangkok Special Meeting on 29 May, including:
- The urgent humanitarian needs of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers stuck at sea or held in detention in ASEAN member states, including the need for search and rescue operations;
- The need for a binding regional anti-human trafficking agreement with legislative frameworks and clear enforcement mandates;
- The urgent imperative for Myanmar to identify and restore basic human rights of Rohingya population, including basic citizenship rights; and
- A timeline for discussion at the ASEAN level on the need for a regional refugee framework.
“At least the human trafficking issue, a dark shame of the region long-ignored by our governments, is being brought out into the open at last. But it has to stay there and not be swept back under the carpet after a couple of meetings and vaguely non-committal statements by government leaders,” said Kraisak.
“This is an issue that has long demanded action – state authorities from all our countries are in this up to their necks and it’s going to take a lot of clout to be able to touch those that have allowed this evil trade to flourish.”