ASEAN and UN go their separate ways on the Rohingya issue

ASEAN and UN go their separate ways on the Rohingya issue

Colombo, November 18 (newsin.asia): The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations (UN) are going their separate ways on the Rohingya issue. While ASEAN is ignoring it for the sake of economic cooperation and internal consensus, the UN is taking it up seriously counting it as one of the greatest human tragedies of recent times.

Leaders of ASEAN and members of the UN’s General Assembly Third Committee  (on Human Rights) met at about the same time earlier this week, ASEAN in Manila and the UN in New York. But while the UN committee came out with a strong statement condemning the persecution of the minority Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (despite opposition from China and abstention by India), ASEAN ignored the issue even though it is association of liberal states and Myanmar is a member on which it could have prevailed.

On Thursday, the UN committee called upon Myanmar to end military operations that had “led to the systematic violation and abuse of human rights” of Rohingya Muslims in the country’s Rakhine state. The committee’s draft resolution, which  will be taken up by the General Assembly in December, urged Myanmar to grant access to UN fact finding teams and  called for full and unhindered humanitarian aid access to Rakhine State.

It asked Myanmar to grant full citizenship rights to the Rohingyas and urged U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, to appoint a Special Envoy to negotiate with  Myanmar.

The move revived a U.N. resolution that was dropped last year due to the country’s progress on human rights.

The General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, voted 135 in favor, 10 against with 26 abstentions.

China and the Russian Federation, which argue against international intervention in the internal affairs of Myanmar and other countries, and want Myanmar and Bangladesh to settle the refugee issue bilaterally, were among the 10 countries which voted against the resolution.

Among the 26 which abstained, were India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Japan and Thailand.

Being a victim of the displacement of the Rohingyas, and having to put up with 600,000 refugees now in addition to 400,000 already in the country on account of previous episodes of ethnic violence, Bangladesh voted for the resolution. Among others which voted for are Muslim countries, Maldives and Pakistan.

For the past 15 years, the UN Third Committee has been annually adopting a resolution condemning Myanmar’s human rights record. But last year, the European Union did not put forward a draft text citing progress under the leadership of the democratically elected Myanmar State Counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi.

However, in the past three months more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims had fled to Bangladesh after the Myanmar military began operations against Rohingya militants, who attacked 30 police posts and an army base in Rakhine state on August 25.

This prompted the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to put forward a new draft U.N. resolution, which will now be formally adopted by the 193-member General Assembly in December. The UNGA’s resolution will deepen international pressure, but will not be legally binding.

Rampant Rape  

On Monday, Myanmar’s army released a report denying all allegations of rape and killing by the security forces, days after replacing the army General in charge of the military operation in Rakhine state.

Myanmar has been refusing entry to a U.N. panel that was tasked with investigating allegations of abuses after a smaller military counteroffensive launched in October 2016. The  Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar has Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia) as Chairman, and Radhika Coomaraswamy (Sri Lanka) and  Christopher Dominic Sidoti (Australia) as members. It visited refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in  Bangladesh and came out with stinging observations about rape and murder committed by the Myanmar forces.

Meanwhile, Angelina Jolie, Hollywood actress and Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Co-Founder of “Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative”, strongly criticized sexual violence against Rohingya women and children. Speaking at a UN conclave in Vancouver she said that rape has a deeper impact on women than bullets.

Lt Gen Mahfuzur Rahman , Principal Staff Officer , Armed Forces Division  of Bangladesh, in a  closed meeting on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse sought Angelina Jolie’s support to expose the sexual exploitation of Rohingya women and children  in Myanmar. Responding to this, Jolie said she is planning to see the Rohingya victims of sexual violence. She applauded Bangladesh’s generous humanitarian approach towards the refugees.

Earlier in the week, Pramila Patten, the U.N. Special Envoy on Sexual Violence in  Conflict, said in Dhaka that sexual violence against the Rohingyas was “commanded, orchestrated and perpetrated by the Armed Forces of Myanmar.”

Angelina Jolie

ASEAN’fs Indifference

This year’s ASEAN Summit ended on November 15 with the commitment to forge cooperation for peace, security and development. ASEAN and other world leaders attending the Summit also pledged to boost business, investment and trade.

However, the meeting avoided passing a resolution that would call upon Aung San Suu Kyi and her government to in resolving the Rohingya crisis. Few countries spoke about the issue. The only exceptions were Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. They cautioned ASEAN members of the consequences of bypassing the Rohingya issue and reiterated that the humanitarian crisis involving the Rohingyas might cause “regional instability and radicalization”.

Most member countries did not exert adequate pressure on the Myanmar leader to take back the Rohingyas. They did not come up with any specific proposal for stopping the genocide being committed by the Myanmar military.

“Even a Code of Conduct similar to that undertaken for the South China Sea could have been visible evidence of ASEAN’s responsiveness in mitigating the severity of the Rohingya crisis,” writes Dr Mohammed Parvez Imdad,  Visiting Professor and Lead Economist based in Manila, Philippines, in an article in The Daily Star.

Human Rights Ignored

Deviating from past practice, Summit totally ignored issues of human rights and civil liberties, Imdad observes.

“ASEAN should have noted that Myanmar is sowing the seeds of discord and destabilization, the costs of which would be too much for the region to bear. Additionally, Myanmar’s actions will adversely impact regional cooperation frameworks and potentials, both in Southeast Asia and South Asia,” Imdad adds.

“Leaders of ASEAN would have done justice to their own agendas for peace and security had the Summit Declaration reflected how Bangladesh has responded to the Rohingya crisis. Bangladesh’s response and handling of the crisis is an exemplary gesture of support to distressed individuals and extraordinary diligence in ensuring peace and stability in the region,” Imdad points out.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, told reporters in Beijing that Foreign Minister Wang Yi would go to Bangladesh and Myanmar this weekend to meet his counterparts and “exchange views on bilateral ties and issues of mutual regional concern.”

But Geng did not say whether Wang would discuss the Rohingya issue. However, China has been trying to get Myanmar and Bangladesh to sit together and thrash out the Rohingya issue bilaterally.

As a result of the efforts of a Chinese Special Envoy, the Interior Ministers of Myanmar and Bangladesh had met once and agreed on a 10-point program including the repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar. But Bangladesh reneged on the agreement even though it maintained that the bilateral engagement would continue.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Minister would attend a meeting of Asian and European foreign ministers in the Myanmar capital of Naypyitaw. The Rohingya issue would come up there thanks to Western leaders.