JAKARTA — Recent statements by Malaysia’s Foreign Minister recognizing the regional significance of the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are a step in the right direction, but ASEAN leaders must take concrete action to address the growing crisis, said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) this week.
During a 24 April press conference, Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman acknowledged that the escalating crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and the associated refugee influx to other countries were impacting the entire region. He said the crisis was in issue for ASEAN to resolve together with Myanmar. He further said that ASEAN leaders would discuss the issue at the 26th ASEAN Summit, which took place this week in Kuala Lumpur.
“We are pleased that the Foreign Minister has recognized the reality that the Rohingya crisis is not just a problem for Myanmar, but one for all of ASEAN,” said Charles Santiago, APHR’s Chairperson and a member of parliament in Malaysia. “We hope that other ASEAN leaders will come to the same conclusion and take action to deal with the crisis.”
However, the Myanmar government continues to block all attempts to formally discuss the issue at the regional level, demonstrating the structural failures that prevent ASEAN from addressing pressing humanitarian issues in a timely and effective manner, if at all.
“Many of the region’s foreign ministers are equally keen for Myanmar to take urgent steps to address the unfolding humanitarian crisis there, but they are prevented from taking action by ASEAN’s rule by consensus,” Santiago added. “When the region cannot act to prevent a genocide, it is clear the architecture of ASEAN needs to be reviewed and the human rights commission (AICHR) strengthened so that it is empowered to effectively and independently address such threats without the need for prior consensus at the governmental level.”
If ASEAN cannot solve the crisis itself, APHR warned, inevitably the international community will be brought into the picture in a more concrete way, further undermining the ASEAN experiment.
In a report released last week, APHR called on ASEAN leaders to conduct an independent investigation of the situation on the ground in Rakhine State, strengthen regional mechanisms for human rights oversight, and commit to protecting Rohingya fleeing Myanmar by granting them refugee status.
The report documented the high risk of atrocities against Rohingya, many of whom lack citizenship rights and already face a dire humanitarian situation and significant restrictions on fundamental freedoms.
APHR argued that ASEAN leaders have an important role to play in pushing the Myanmar government to grant Rohingya full citizenship, denounce hate speech, and hold perpetrators of violence accountable.
“ASEAN leaders have yet to act on our recommendations. Acknowledging the seriousness of this issue is an important first step, but words need to be backed up by actions,” Santiago added.