KUALA LUMPUR — Lawmakers from across Southeast Asia today applauded Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman’s decision to “disassociate” himself from a recent ASEAN Chairman’s Statement on the situation in Rakhine State, calling the move an important and necessary step to push for more substantial action by the regional bloc to address the growing crisis in Myanmar.
“The Minister’s bold stand is commendable, and he deserves praise for going out on a limb to call out what’s really happening in Rakhine State and what needs to be done about it,” said Charles Santiago, a Malaysian MP and Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). “ASEAN’s undue emphasis on consensus is undermining the regional bloc’s ability to act decisively and confront realities on the ground in Myanmar. It also demonstrates the utter lack of formal ASEAN leadership on this issue.”
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman took the unusual step Sunday of issuing his own separate statement following a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. His statement criticized the official ASEAN Chairman’s Statement, issued by Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano following the meeting, calling it a “misrepresentation of the reality of the situation.” Mr. Anifah said that his concerns were not taken into account in the drafting process of the Chairman’s Statement, and highlighted, in particular, its failure to specifically mention Rohingya, over 430,000 of whom have fled to Bangladesh since the start of the Myanmar military’s “clearance operations” in late August.
The statement from Malaysia called on the Myanmar government “to end the violence, stop the destruction to lives and properties, allow immediate unimpeded access for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas and all affected communities, and to resolve the Rohingya refugee problem.” It also described military operations in Rakhine State as “disproportionate.”
APHR said the statement highlighted critical information omitted from the official Chairman’s Statement and constituted an important voice from within ASEAN calling for further action. The collective of lawmakers urged other ASEAN governments to take similar measures to directly address the crisis in Rakhine State.
“This is no longer only Myanmar’s problem and has the grave possibility of destabilizing the entire region. ASEAN cannot continue pussyfooting about the issue of targeted violence against Rohingya in Myanmar,” Santiago said. “The non-interference policy – which the Myanmar government has consistently invoked as this tragedy unfolds – has once again been revealed to be merely a tool for regimes to provide themselves with cover as they persecute their own people and commit atrocities.”
Disagreements between member governments over ASEAN’s response to the crisis also demonstrate the urgent need to allow for independent investigators to assess the situation and ascertain the facts, APHR said.
“If the Myanmar authorities want to clarify the real situation on the ground, they should allow for the entry of impartial investigators from the UN-mandated fact-finding mission, as well as other observers from relevant regional bodies,” said APHR Board Member Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia.
“The Myanmar government cannot continue to object to the international community’s characterization of the crisis while dismissing all credible, international reporting as ‘fake news.’ It must promote genuine openness to international scrutiny,” Sundari added.
MPs also urged the Malaysian government to follow up on its strong words with concrete action that would support relief for thousands of Rohingya at risk, including those already in Malaysia, by signing the 1951 Refugee Convention and ensuring that all Rohingya and other refugees in Malaysia have adequate protection and access to services.
“The Malaysian Foreign Ministry set a high bar with its strong statement on the Rohingya crisis. Now other ministries must follow and demonstrate policy consistency and coherence throughout the Malaysian government,” said APHR Board Member Teddy Baguilat, a member of the Philippine House of Representatives.
“Words are important, but there are also concrete policy actions that Malaysian authorities can take at home to ensure that Rohingya and other refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar are protected.”