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Rohingya crisis a tough issue for Asean

Indonesian and Malaysian representatives of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) have urged Asean members to step up measures to establish peace and rule of law.

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Updated: April 24, 2018

The panel aims to promote harmony and reconciliation between the various ethnic communities in Myanmar, The Jarkarta Post reported.

“We are extremely concerned that in spite of the numerous Asean statements and the diplomatic and humanitarian efforts thus far, including initiatives proposed and solutions offered by some AICHR representatives, the situation on the ground has not tangibly improved,” Indonesian representative Dinna Wisnu and Malaysian representative Edmund Bon Tai soon said in a joint statement The Jakarta Post received on Monday.

A Muslim ethnic minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, the Rohingya have long faced discrimination and persecution in the land they have inhabited for generations. Tensions increased in August last year when an attack on police posts by militants triggered a brutal retaliatory crackdown which the United Nations has since denounced as “ethnic cleansing.”

Since August, close to 700,000 Rohingya have crossed the border to neighbouring Bangladesh, bringing with them tales of the sickening brutality they have suffered at the hands of the military. Packed into makeshift shelters in overcrowded camps, conditions may soon worsen for the refugees once the annual monsoon season begins.

The humanitarian crisis has posed problems for Asean, as the nations within the bloc share a policy of not interfering with one another’s domestic affairs.

The issue may create tension between Myanmar and Muslim-majority members Indonesia and Malaysia, who have voiced their support for the Rohingya on more than one occasion.

At the Asean-Australia summit in March, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak raised concerns about the possibility that the ongoing humanitarian crisis may give rise to extremism, stating that desperate and displaced people may be easy marks for ISIS, and that the crisis was no longer a domestic issue, AFP reported.

“Because of the suffering of Rohingya people and that of displacement around the region, the situation in Rakhine state and Myanmar can no longer be considered to be a purely domestic matter,” AFP quoted him saying.

“In addition, the problem should not be looked at through the humanitarian prism only because it has the potential of developing into a serious security threat to the region.

“Rakhine with thousands of despairing… people who see no hope in the future will be a fertile ground for radicalisation and recruitment by (ISIS) and affiliated groups.”

Though Bangladesh remains the most common destination for fleeing Rohingya, some refugees have also fled to Asean members Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, with a boat carrying 25 women, 43 men and 8 children arriving in Indonesia on Friday, Associated Press reported.

However, ahead of the Asean summit later this week, experts remain unconvinced that Asean will tackle the issue, The Nation reported.

“Asean’s culture of saving face and not touching sensitive issues is no surprise,” said Arthit Thongin, an expert in international security from Rangsit University at a seminar yesterday.

“Asean works when it comes to mutual (economic) benefits such as free trade agreements. But when it comes problematic issues, the 10 countries scatter.”

Lalita Hanwong, an academic from Kasetsart University’s social science faculty, said that there was currently no mechanism within Asean that could truly address the Rohingya issue, according to The Nation.

The Asean summit will run from April 25 to April 28. The South China Morning Post has reported that Suu Kyi will not be attending, and that President Win Myint will be representing Myanmar instead.

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Nadia Chevroulet
About the Author: Nadia is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network.

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