JAKARTA — The Malaysian government’s public statements calling on Myanmar to address the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State are a positive development, but concrete action is needed from all ASEAN member states to ensure that these statements are translated into protection for vulnerable Rohingya in Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today.
“Malaysia’s recognition that this is a regional problem, not an ‘internal affair,’ is very important. Other countries must do the same. All of ASEAN must commit to working collectively to resolve this problem, rather than sweep it under the rug and ignore the possibility of mass atrocities being committed,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, APHR Vice Chair and former Thai Senator.
“This shouldn’t be an issue where various regional actors descend into factionalism. It’s about our common humanity and shared commitment to ASEAN values of peace, comprehensive security, and people-centered development. It is in that spirit that we implore all ASEAN states to follow Malaysia’s lead and push the Myanmar authorities to halt their attacks on civilians. It’s a regional question when stateless people are forced to flee for their lives, often ending up as the responsibility of regional neighbors like Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.”
At a rally on 3 December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned Myanmar authorities’ actions against Rohingya in northern Rakhine State and urged other ASEAN nations to join him in pressuring the Myanmar government to end the violence. “The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place […] The world cannot say it is not our problem. It is our problem,” Najib said.
The same day, the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement expressing “concern” over the “humanitarian crisis” for Rohingya in Rakhine State, arguing that the Myanmar government’s actions fit the definition of “ethnic cleansing.” The statement further noted: “As a neighbour and a responsible member of the international community, it is Malaysia’s obligation to ensure that its ASEAN colleague takes proactive steps to prevent the matter from further deteriorating.”
The statements echo previous APHR calls for ASEAN to address the crisis in Rakhine State, including by supporting an independent investigation into alleged rights abuses. The UN estimates that more than 30,000 Rohingya have been displaced as a result of the military’s crackdown in northern Rakhine State, and humanitarian aid access has been cut off for an estimated 130,000 residents. There have also been reports of arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial killings, and sexual violence.
Parliamentarians urged for statements to be backed up by specific action from the Malaysian government, both at home and abroad.
“Words are important, but they must be backed up with action. The next step is for Malaysia to call an emergency ASEAN meeting to address the crisis. There are, of course, many political hurdles to such action, but the extent of the crisis we’re facing compels governments to do something,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.
“There’s much more the Prime Minister and his government can do to support Rohingya in Malaysia, too. It starts with signing the 1951 Refugee Convention, registering all Rohingya in the country, and ensuring that they have access to basic services. The same goes for other ASEAN countries with large populations of Rohingya refugees, including Indonesia and Thailand,” Santiago added.
Out of 10 ASEAN member states, only two—Cambodia and the Philippines—have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention. Tens of thousands of Rohingya currently reside in ASEAN states besides Myanmar, including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. In many cases, these Rohingya are denied refugee status and lack access to employment, healthcare, and other services, APHR said.
“In Thailand, for instance, there are hundreds detained in crowded conditions. This treatment has adverse impacts, which fall disproportionately on women and children. They need access to schools and basic services,” Kraisak Choonhavan added.