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ASEAN urged to adopt strong stance on Myanmar crisis

UN expert tells ASEAN members too much is at stake for ordinary people in the conflict-torn nation

Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, speaks during a press conference at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur on June 23

Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, speaks during a press conference at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur on June 23. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 24, 2022 06:47 AM GMT

Updated: June 24, 2022 08:07 AM GMT

A United Nations rights expert has called for member countries to follow the example of Malaysia and push the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to act against Myanmar’s military leadership.

Tom Andrews, a special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, also reminded that “too much is at stake for Myanmar and its people to accept complacency and inaction by the international community.”

Andrews appreciated Malaysia’s leadership for pushing ASEAN to adopt a stronger stance on the violence in the conflict-torn nation which has been dragging on for more than a year since the coup in February 2021.

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The rights expert said Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Saifuddin Abdullah had called on ASEAN to move from a policy of “non-interference” to, in his words, one of “non-indifference.”

“Malaysia has given voice to the obvious fact that after more than one year, nothing has moved and since nothing has moved, more people are being killed and more people are being forced to flee the country,” Andrews said.

Backed by the UN, the US and the European Union, ASEAN has been leading diplomatic efforts to tackle Myanmar’s political crisis but has been ineffective in pressuring the military regime.

“I look forward to working to support Malaysia’s foreign policy leadership on Myanmar, to affirm the human rights of the people under siege and to reduce the incredible scale of human suffering in Myanmar"

Saifuddin has called for the 10-member regional bloc to engage with Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government (NUG) established by former lawmakers, activists and ethnic groups following the coup that toppled the elected civilian government.

“I look forward to working to support Malaysia’s foreign policy leadership on Myanmar, to affirm the human rights of the people under siege and to reduce the incredible scale of human suffering in Myanmar,” Andrews stressed.

The junta’s attacks on the people of Myanmar constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes and no one has been spared the impact of the military’s violence, Andrews said after ending an eight-day visit to Malaysia on June 23.

He said junta forces have killed “more than 2,000 civilians, arrested more than 14,000, displaced more than 700,000, driving the number of internally displaced persons well over one million” and plunged the country into “an economic and humanitarian crisis that threatens the lives and well-being of millions.”

The junta has ramped up its abuses and continues committing atrocities such as mass killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and indiscriminate attacks on civilians which the UN said amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Myanmar’s military chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, has been barred from attending ASEAN meetings over his failure to implement a five-point consensus. But the junta’s defense minister has been allowed to attend the ASEAN defense ministers’ meeting despite pleas by rights activists.

In the latest development, the junta transferred Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi from a secret detention location to solitary confinement in a prison compound in the remote capital city of Naypyidaw on June 22.

The former pro-democracy leader has been tried on multiple charges including corruption and was jailed for six years for possessing walkie-talkies, breaching Covid-19 rules and inciting public unrest.

She had been under house arrest for two decades under the previous military regime which seized power in 1988. Known locally as "The Lady," Suu Kyi became an international icon due to her championing of freedom, justice and democracy.

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