ASEAN Lawmakers’ Group: Regional Bloc Must Expel Myanmar if Coup Holds

Non-interference in member states’ internal affairs is a founding principle of ASEAN, however, so the bloc may be unable to take action.

A grouping of Southeast Asian nations needs to pressure Myanmar and kick it out of the bloc if military leaders there don’t end the coup they launched this week, an association of MPs from across the region said Tuesday.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, other Asian nations such as Japan and China, and the West need to stop saying “nice things” about reconciliation in Myanmar and take concrete action, said Charles Santiago, chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

“ASEAN should have a high level delegation visit Myanmar in the next days to put pressure on it to return the government back to Aung San Suu Kyi … to impress [upon them] that the coup is not acceptable and very inconsistent and it violates ASEAN principles and the ASEAN charter,” Santiago, a lawmaker from Malaysia, told an online news conference with other pro-democracy groups, referring to the civilian leader of the Myanmar government.

“[I]f Myanmar does not turn around, I think there should be proceedings to expel Myanmar out of ASEAN.”

Santiago acknowledged that ASEAN nations were divided in their individual responses to the coup, with Cambodia, Thailand, and, initially, the Philippines, saying the development was an internal matter of Myanmar. Notably, all three countries have a history of coups.

Santiago is a member of the opposition in Malaysia, which has an unelected government and is under its first national emergency in more than five decades.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, expressed serious concern about Monday’s coup in the fellow ASEAN state. And the kingdom of Brunei, as chair of ASEAN this year, urged a return to normalcy “in accordance with the will and interests” of Myanmar’s people.

Manila, however, changed its tune on Tuesday, and also expressed worries about the military coup in Myanmar.

“The Philippine government is following with deep concern the developing situation in Myanmar, and is especially concerned with the safety of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asian group, called on the United Nations Security Council to impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar and refer the situation in the country to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won 396 seats in parliament while the army-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party won 33 in general elections in November.

Early on Monday, Myanmar’s military arrested Suu Kyi and other senior leaders, then declared a one-year state of emergency to deal with allegations of voting fraud tied to the general election three months ago.

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said it had assessed that the elected government in Myanmar was deposed in a military coup a day earlier. Therefore, the United States would now review foreign assistance to the Myanmar government, the department said.

Coup an ‘ASEAN problem’

Non-interference in member countries’ domestic affairs is a foundational principle of ASEAN, so unless the coup directly affects member nations, the bloc is unlikely to take any action against Myanmar, said Mohammad Hasan Ansori, research director at the Habibie Center, an Indonesian think-tank.

“Indonesia or any other ASEAN member countries cannot intervene or apply strong pressure. It doesn’t work that way,” Hasan told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

In fact, even though Indonesia on Monday urged Myanmar to implement the ASEAN Charter’s principles – including a commitment to democratic principles – it must not say or do much more, said Hikmahanto Juawana, a professor in international law at the University of Indonesia.

“For now, it’s not advisable for Indonesia to make a statement that could be perceived by the coup government as interfering,” he told BenarNews.

The bloc’s non-interference policy doesn’t apply to the coup in Myanmar because the military takeover there had wider, regional ramifications and needed to be addressed by the bloc’s member-nations, Santiago, the Malaysian MP, said.

“This is not interfering because Myanmar’s problem will become an ASEAN problem … because countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand will now have more refugees coming to those countries and this could pose a security problem for those nations,” he said.

Meanwhile, as of December 2020, there were more than 150,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from Myanmar registered with UNHCR, the refugee agency of the United Nations, in Malaysia, the agency said. They comprise 102,250 Rohingya, 22,410 Chins and 29,360 other ethnic groups “from conflict-affected areas or fleeing persecution in Myanmar,” according to UNHCR.

An estimated 600,000 Rohingya people remain in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, including some 126,000 who are effectively confined to camps or camp-like settings established in 2012, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Monday.

In addition, more than 100,000 people from various communities remain displaced by conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army in Rakhine and Chin states, OCHA said.

“Humanitarian access to more than a third of these displacement sites remains cut off,” OCHA said.

Fears for Rohingya in Rakhine

The Rohingya in Myanmar are very fearful about what will happen next in Myanmar, said Wai Nu, director of the Women’s Peace Network and a Rohingya activist.

“What is going to happen in the ethnic areas and where the conflict is ongoing? ... Mostly in the camps they are very fearful of what will happen to them next, what will be their future,” Nu said at the press conference with Santiago.

“There has been no progress over several years, but with this military coup, they are more frustrated about accountability processes, justice, and peace for the future.”

The U.N. General Assembly president on Tuesday echoed the U.N. spokesman’s worries about the Rohingya still in Myanmar.

“I am deeply concerned that the military coup in Myanmar could further exacerbate the problems of the most vulnerable, including Rohingya Muslims. I condemn the coup once again and call for unrestricted humanitarian access to Rakhine State and other parts of the country,” said Volkan Bozkir said on Twitter.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.


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