Makeshift homes of Rohingya refugees at the Kutupalong camp in Ukhia on Oct. 15, 2020. (Photo: AFP)
Regional lawmakers have weighed in on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) “to step up its response to the ongoing crisis in Rakhine, and to end the cycle of violence and displacement.”
Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said the calls come as Myanmar continues to demonstrate no desire to solve the protracted issues or restore the rights of the Rohingya.
In a new report, Asean’s Rakhine Crisis: Assessing the regional response to atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, released on Oct. 20, APHR examined the 10-member bloc’s response to the crisis, from the violence in August 2017 to the present day.
It found that while the bloc’s actions have marked a significant departure from its usual insistence on non-interference, they have mostly been ineffective, if not at times deeply problematic.
The report cited a lack of leadership, at the secretariat level as well as among member states, which has prevented Asean from articulating a clear vision and strategy that would effectively help end the cycle of violence and displacement in Rakhine.
Charles Santiago, APHR’s chair and a Malaysian MP, said Asean has both the “potential and obligation to find lasting solutions for Rakhine state” and the region as a whole, but to do that it has to first and foremost recognize it as a human rights crisis that was created by the Myanmar government, and to actively include the Rohingya community in its decisions.
“Asean’s lack of cohesive and strategic leadership, and its reliance on consensus-based decisions, has allowed the Myanmar authorities to take total control of the narrative, which issues the bloc can focus on, and who they can engage with,” Santiago said in a statement.
The report said the reluctance to acknowledge the underlying human rights aspects of the crisis resulted in it focusing on issues regarded as “less controversial,” such as repatriation of refugees and humanitarian response, instead of addressing more sensitive issues that include the restoration of citizenship rights and restrictions on movement.
The bloc’s lack of transparency, reluctance to engage with actors other than the Myanmar government and the weaknesses inherent in its own institutions have further undermined its response, according to the report.
“Failure to do so will not only harm the bloc’s credibility and legitimacy, but will also cause further harm and suffering to the Rohingya, and others who call Rakhine state, and indeed the Asean region, their home,” he said.
Asean has avoided criticizing Myanmar for the way it has treated the Rohingya. The United Nations has termed the military’s crackdown against Rohingya a form of “genocide” but Asean has opted to focus instead on providing humanitarian assistance.
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi said while there have been some constructive measures and assistance for what Myanmar has been doing in Rakhine, there have also been some “internal and external communities who try to point out only our weaknesses” and try to “exacerbate the problems.”
“We are implementing our policy of ‘Leave no one behind’ for the development of our Union including Rakhine state,” Suu Kyi said in a speech marking three years since establishing the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine State on Oct. 19.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in the wake of the crackdown that began in August 2017 following attacks on security personnel by Rohingya militants. Many are still struggling to survive in overcrowded refugee camps lacking in basic amenities.
Myanmar has been under legal pressure over atrocities against Rohingya and other ethnic minority groups by the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.