Myanmar Activists, Observers Slam ASEAN for Failing to Hold Junta to Account

By The Irrawaddy 26 April 2021

ASEAN leaders met on April 24 in the Indonesian capital Jakarta to discuss the political situation in Myanmar following the military coup.

The leaders expressed their views on the current situation in Myanmar, and coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was also given a chance to tell his side of the story for around half an hour.

A five-point consensus was reached on ending violence, facilitating a constructive dialogue between all parties, a special ASEAN envoy to facilitate the dialogue, acceptance of aid and a visit by the envoy to Myanmar.

ASEAN leaders reportedly proposed the release of all political detainees. However, the five-point statement did not mention political prisoners and people in Myanmar have responded by expressing their dissatisfaction.

The Irrawaddy asked politicians, analysts and activists about their views on ASEAN’s stance on the Myanmar crisis.

U Aung Myo Min 

Executive Director, Equality Myanmar

I knew that ASEAN would release a statement like this. They talked only about their demands. But Myanmar’s military didn’t give any promises. Considering the policy of ASEAN, the statement is an improvement in that goes beyond their policy of non-interference in the affairs of its members. But it is still a long way from implementing anything.

The statement doesn’t criticize or condemn the human rights violations and arrests. We can say their stance is too soft. Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have called for the release of all detainees. I don’t know why they didn’t ask for that in the statement.

ASEAN has called for a visit by the special envoy to Myanmar to be allowed to facilitate dialogue. This is what they always do and it has never been successful. It is just wasting time and delivers no result. It’s a weakness that has existed for a long time. The United Nations has an independent investigative mechanism, fact-finding mission and a special envoy on Myanmar. But even they can’t intervene.  It seems like ASEAN is dreaming by appointing another envoy.

ASEAN itself doesn’t have a firm stance on Myanmar. The leaders of some ASEAN countries didn’t even attend the summit. There are different views within ASEAN. They have different stances on the Myanmar crisis. Given those circumstances, it is unlikely that ASEAN will be able to handle the Myanmar crisis.

U Bo Kyi

Assistance Association for Political Prisoners 

I appreciate the efforts of ASEAN, but there is a question about for whom they are making those efforts. There were no important demands for the Myanmar people in the statement. And there is no timeframe for implementing the demands made. It amounts to buying time for Myanmar military. That is not a good sign for the Myanmar people.

The release of political prisoners was not mentioned in the statement. So the demands only serve the military. If they are making demands in the interests of the Myanmar people, they should have demanded the release of all political prisoners including [State Counselor] Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint. And a timeframe must be set for their release. ASEAN must say what further action it will take if their demands are not met.

The meeting was not a fruitful meeting for the Myanmar people or for democracy. It is quite frustrating. Speaking to the ASEAN Community, it is not just about harmony among the leaders of ASEAN. If the people of a member country are being oppressed, the people and leaders of other member countries have a responsibility to protect them. That is enshrined in the ASEAN Charter.

U Kyaw Swar Tun 

Former Diplomat at the Myanmar Embassy, Washington

On the surface, ASEAN has stepped in. But, in reality, ASEAN did not say a word about being sorry for the civilian deaths in Myanmar, and civilian deaths are unacceptable. Nor did they call for the release of those who have been unfairly arrested. They merely called for an end to violence. That ASEAN says they would like their envoy to visit Myanmar and facilitate negotiations breaches ASEAN’s non-interference policy.

And when it comes to humanitarian aid, it would be better if any aid is delivered through non-governmental organizations. But the military regime will not accept that. As ASEAN is not the United Nations (UN), their negotiations and decisions will have been influenced by China. If Myanmar accepts their decisions, the country’s image will be tarnished to the lowest level and it will not be able to compete with countries in the region. In summary, the consensus reached at the summit is not the one Myanmar’s people aspire to.

U Than Soe Naing

Political Analyst 

As usual, ASEAN released a vague statement. We can say it is an improvement compared to statements in the past. But about its call for ending violence, it didn’t state clearly who is committing violence against who.

Again, although the statement says ASEAN will facilitate a dialogue among all parties, it didn’t mention the release of political prisoners. How can Myanmar’s problems be solved without that?

The statement also said nothing about the [2020] general election. But it says ASEAN will facilitate negotiations. How? So, the general consensus of ASEAN is the same old story of delaying rather than acting. ASEAN will continue to delay in the future.

U Khin Maung Myint

Legal advisor 

Although the actions of ASEAN and its latest statement appear to be helpful diplomatically, they are in fact impractical decisions given the current political situation in Myanmar.

Without effective intervention from ASEAN or the UN, there is the potential for the situation to develop into a civil war. While Myanmar is faced with that risk, it is impractical to make decisions on diplomatic grounds without properly judging the situation based on reliable information. ASEAN’s decisions do not square with the current domestic political situation or the political wishes of Myanmar’s people.

Myanmar needs strong intervention either from ASEAN or the UN that can immediately impact upon the two opposing forces in Myanmar. In other words, measures are needed to stop the imminent risk of a serious civil war. For that to happen, the most important thing is for all the detainees, including the political leaders, to be released. Only then can the negotiations proposed by the international community and ASEAN take place.

U Aung Thu Nyein

Director, Institute for Strategy and Policy

ASEAN has described itself as a caring society. The coup in Myanmar has become a threat to the vision and influence of the whole bloc. Singapore has even said that the Myanmar crisis could become a regional crisis. That’s one of the reasons ASEAN held a special summit on Myanmar.

ASEAN will take its usual approach. It will not pressure [the military regime] or intervene as we had hoped. But the military regime can’t stand alone. There is no more absolute power. Their power is limited. One way or another, we will be able to reach our goal.

U Yee Mon 

Defense Minister of the civilian National Unity Government

What is sad about the ASEAN statement is that it didn’t mention that the military council seized power from the democratically-elected government. It didn’t demand the release of people unfairly detained, including the leaders of the elected government.

It also failed to condemn Myanmar’s military for killing over 700 people. The National Unity Government will stand by Myanmar’s people. The people of Myanmar will not be excited by ASEAN’s statement. Myanmar’s people must decide the path they want to take.

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