Yanghee Lee: ASEAN must engage NUG to resolve junta-made crisis

April 25th, 2022  •  Category News
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SAC-M’s 22 April statement quoted by the Irrawaddy.

ASEAN’s Myanmar Peace Plan Condemned for No Significant Progress

25 April, 2022

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) peace plan for Myanmar has proved a failure after 12 months of no significant progress, and has become a pretext for the international community to delay real action under the guise of waiting for ASEAN leadership, said a group of former United Nations (UN) experts on Myanmar and a human rights organization.

ASEAN’s peace plan, known as the Five-Point Consensus, was agreed by ASEAN leaders and Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on 24 April 2021. The plan calls, among other things, for an immediate cessation of violence [against civilians by the regime] and constructive dialogue between all stakeholders. The agreement was reached two months after the coup, and following the junta’s subsequent brutal crackdowns on anti-regime protesters. 

The Five-Point Consensus was hailed by the international community, including the UN and United States, as a rare example of ASEAN taking a leading role in solving the problems of one of its member states. One year on, though, the military regime has failed to honor the agreement. The number of civilians killed by the junta rose to over 1,700 this month, while more than 300,000 people in anti-regime strongholds in the country’s west and northwest have been displaced by the Myanmar military’s air and artillery strikes, raids and the burning of villages, according to the UN.  

Given this reality, all ASEAN has been able to do is ban Min Aung Hlaing from its meetings. And western countries have dragged their feet on taking any tangible action against the junta, while cozying up to ASEAN for its initiatives on Myanmar. Western sanctions have proved ineffective, too, thanks to the regime’s close ties to China and Russia.

Last Friday, the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M), a human rights group made up of former United Nations (UN) experts on Myanmar, said that ASEAN needs to change its approach to dealing with the junta, as it has failed to honor a single point of the Five-Point Consensus.

“The agreement has failed and a change of course from ASEAN is needed,” said SAC-M’s Marzuki Darusman, a former chair of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that ASEAN has failed to fulfill its pledges or take meaningful steps toward pressing the regime to end its human rights violations.

“Myanmar’s junta has spent the past year committing atrocities in utter disregard for its commitments to ASEAN,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia Director at HRW.

The rights group said that the Five-Point Consensus has become a pretext for governments such as the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and European Union member countries to delay real action under the guise of waiting for ASEAN to show leadership.

“The junta has exploited the international community’s deference to the regional bloc, which has a long record of neglecting its responsibility to protect the people of Southeast Asia under its principles of non-interference and consensus,” said HRW.

SAC-M’s Yanghee Lee, a former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said that ASEAN’s peace plan has failed because ASEAN engaged with the wrong party, referring to the bloc’s engagement with the regime instead of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG). The NUG was formed in the wake of the coup by elected lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy government and its ethnic allies to challenge the regime’s legitimacy at home and abroad. The majority of Myanmar people regard the NUG as their legitimate government and many western countries support it, despite their reluctance to treat it as an official administration.

“The NUG represents Myanmar and is the proper party to lead engagement with ASEAN. The NUG has demonstrated that it is the constructive partner that ASEAN needs to make any progress towards resolving the crisis,” said Yanghee Lee. 

SAC-M is calling on the UN Security Council to take responsibility for international action in response to the growing crisis in Myanmar, as ASEAN and its Five-Point Consensus has failed. “The Security Council cannot continue to ignore the cries of the people of Myanmar for international action to end the military’s violence,” said SAC-M.

HRW’s Elaine Pearson said that governments around the world have stalled on taking action on Myanmar for a year by standing behind ASEAN’s hollow words – and have nothing to show for it.

“They need to adopt strong measures to deter further atrocities and hold the military accountable, not a flimsy consensus that’s proven its futility,” she said.