March 14, 2023
JAKARTA – Indonesia has a limited window of opportunity to achieve progress on Myanmar while it chairs ASEAN but that window is already growing smaller. Regional and international support for ASEAN is needed to impose time-bound consequences for Min Aung Hlaing should he continue to flout the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus (5PC), Indonesia is best placed to lead the initiative.
ASEAN has insisted so far on treating the crisis in Myanmar as if it were a humanitarian disaster, one that can be ameliorated and contained neatly within Myanmar’s borders through cooperation with the junta. This is, at best, delusional. At worst it makes ASEAN complicit in the mass suffering being inflicted on the Myanmar people by Min Aung Hlaing’s junta.
Min Aung Hlaing’s one and only goal is to establish his own rule, heading the junta, in Myanmar, an objective he is prepared to pursue no matter how much destruction he inflicts on the country or how many people he kills. This has been clear from the outset, making ASEAN’s futile fixation with expecting him to suddenly adhere to the 5PC he agreed to two years ago all the more perverse.
The junta has only one strategy: to terrorize the population though the widespread, systematic commission of atrocities. So far, the strategy seems to be failing. In spite of the immense suffering, the people’s support for the revolution is entrenched, and nationwide armed resistance is steadily escalating in response to the junta’s savagery. The junta’s increasing reliance on devastating airstrikes to bomb civilian targets reflects its hemorrhaging of control on the ground.
But the scale of the suffering caused by the junta is alarming. Conservative estimates count the number of people in Myanmar who will need humanitarian assistance this year at 17.6 million, while 15.2 million are food insecure. At least 1.5 million people are now internally displaced with thousands more seeking refuge across Myanmar’s borders in neighboring Thailand and India each day. And there are still more than a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
For two long years, the Myanmar people have pleaded for support from the international com-munity and protection from the junta’s violence. They feel totally betrayed.
Indonesia cannot allow this disgraceful injustice to continue. Ending the junta’s violence is a bare minimum expectation, yet ASEAN does not seem to have the necessary leverage over Min Aung Hlaing. Indonesia should lead a regional response that extends beyond ASEAN member states to include democratic allies Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand as well as Myanmar’s immediate neighbor Bangladesh.
China and India’s participation should also be sought but may not be possible, with both countries continuing to supply Min Aung Hlaing’s forces with the weapons it uses to carry out its atrocities. The immediate focus of this ASEAN-Plus initiative should be on ending the junta violence, with clear benchmarks for the junta and time-bound con-sequences if not met.
At the same time, ASEAN must begin formal engagement with all stakeholders, primarily the National Unity Government (NUG) as the legitimate government of Myanmar, its allied ethnic revolutionary organizations, Myanmar civil society, and others in the democratic movement.
Furthermore, it is critical that ASEAN – and the UN – urgently coordinate humanitarian assistance directly with local actors inside Myanmar, many in resistance-controlled areas including those along the border with Thailand, already providing aid and support to millions of people in dire need. This is the only way to get aid to areas of the country where Min Aung Hlaing is deliberately restricting access as a means of inflicting yet more suffering on the population. If ASEAN and the UN continue giving the junta total control over aid delivery, they are quite simply enabling Min Aung Hlaing’s atrocity strategy.
Should ASEAN fail to make concrete progress on Myanmar by the end of the year, it should refer the situation to the UN Security Council, which in December passed its first ever resolution on Myanmar. The Security Council must then use all measures at its disposal, including those un-der Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to act to protect the people of Myanmar from the junta.
Less than 10 short months remain in Indonesia’s term as ASEAN chair before the seat is passed on to Laos. The clock is ticking.
Marzuki Darusman, Yanghee Lee and Chris Sidoti are founding members of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M), an independent group of international experts who came together in response to the military’s attempted coup of February 2021 in Myanmar, to support the peoples of Myanmar in their fight for human rights, peace, democracy, justice and accountability.