Asean foreign ministers should engage rights body to deal with Myanmar

Asean foreign ministers have repeatedly expressed their concerns over the Myanmar State Administration Council’s lack of respect for the five-point consensus they agreed upon in April 2021.

Yuyun Wahyuningrum

Yuyun Wahyuningrum

The Jakarta Post


Reach for the moon: Buddhist devotees visit Shwedagon pagoda to mark the full moon of the Thadingyut festival in Yangon, Myanmar on Oct. 9, 2022. Some of the attendees offered prayers for their country that has plunged into turmoil following last year's coup. (AFP/.)

October 27, 2022

JAKARTA – The political crisis that has been beleaguering Myanmar since the Feb. 1, 2021, coup against democracy has dominated ASEAN discussions and will continue to do so when ASEAN foreign ministers meet in Jakarta today.

The foreign ministers have repeatedly expressed their concerns over the Myanmar State Administration Council’s (SAC) lack of respect for the five-point consensus they agreed upon in April of last year.

Most recently, on Tuesday, ASEAN chair Cambodia issued a statement expressing the region’s apprehension about the recent escalation of violence in Myanmar, including the bombing at Insein prison, hostilities in Karen state and an air strike in Kachin state, which claimed the lives of more than 60 civilians and injured many others. These numbers added to 2,388 people killed and 15,947 others arrested by the military junta since the coup, as documented by the Association for the Assistance Political Prisoners (AAPP).

The five-point consensus reached by the nine ASEAN leaders and Myanmar junta chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing stipulates an immediate end to violence in Myanmar, dialogue among all parties, the appointment of a special envoy, humanitarian assistance by ASEAN and the special envoy’s visit to Myanmar to meet with all relevant parties.

In the situation of domestic armed conflicts such as traditional civil wars, internal armed conflict or internal conflict, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention requires states to treat all persons in enemy hands humanely, without any adverse distinction. It specifically prohibits murder; mutilation; torture; cruel, humiliating, and degrading treatment; the taking of hostages; and unfair trials.

At the upcoming summit next month, ASEAN leaders will make a decision and provide a guide for next steps based on the progress of Myanmar’s peace process. It is for this reason that the foreign ministers from nine ASEAN countries are convening at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta today to discuss the Myanmar conundrum and possible ways forward for ASEAN to help end the ordeal of the Myanmar people.

I would like to reiterate the suggestion I made at the 12th Interface Meeting on the sidelines of the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting (AMM) in Phnom Penh on Aug. 2, which I believe could contribute to the discussions.

While the five-point consensus takes political and humanitarian approaches to Myanmar’s crisis, it has left out the human rights perspective. In fact, as we have witnessed in Myanmar and a number of other places, political crises often result in human rights violations. ASEAN should involve its human rights commission in the implementation of the five-point consensus.

In fact, at the 33rd meeting, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) expressed an interest in helping Myanmar with any task assigned by the ASEAN foreign ministers. And this is coherent with Article 4.14 of the AICHR terms of reference. ASEAN foreign ministers can include the AICHR as part of the advisory team of the chair’s special envoy on Myanmar, especially in addressing human rights issues in the country.

The AICHR can also be assigned to establish a platform to hear grievances from the people of Myanmar and collect information by visiting the country’s neighbors. Furthermore, the AICHR can be included in the dialogue initiatives with all parties inside and outside of Myanmar aiming for national reconciliation. The role of the AICHR can complement and contribute to the work of the chair’s special envoy.

ASEAN foreign ministers should also consider providing a full-fledged office, resources and team for the chair’s special envoy on Myanmar. The special envoy has responsibilities to establish constructive dialogues to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people and facilitate mediation of the dialogue process.

To do so, the special envoy must ensure that the process of dialogue complies with the principles of no harm, gender balance, inclusivity, transparency, participation, voluntary action and respect. With such huge responsibilities, this position requires a long-term mandate to carry out the job and its complexities.

At this crucial ASEAN special meeting, I hope ASEAN foreign ministers can find ways to ensure that the special envoy can have full access to all parties concerned, political prisoners and institutions in Myanmar, such as detention centers and prisons.

Beyond the five-point consensus, it is very important that the foreign ministers agree on developing a regional instrument on democracy and constitutional government as a measure to avoid another coup from happening in this region in the future.

In the meantime, the SAC has insisted on holding a general election in August 2023 whose fairness has been questioned. According to the Global New Light of Myanmar, the junta has made some preparations to organize the election by creating a database of 3,600 election commission, military and other personnel to be compiled into voter rolls. Meanwhile, the leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party are in prison and its supporters are being abducted and tortured.

Some civil society groups, ethnic groups, young people and political parties in the country have denounced the proposed election and instead called for accepting the results of the 2020 general election, which reflected the will of the people.

ASEAN should prepare a response to the election and its results. ASEAN should disassociate itself from supporting or sending international observers or diplomatic, technical or financial assistance to the sham elections and electoral processes organized by the SAC. Moreover, ASEAN must not accept the result of the military-run election.

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