The anguish of Myanmar: Jakarta Post contributors


Flags outside the Association of South-East Asian Nations secretariat building in Jakarta. - Reuters

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): It has been well over eight months since the military authorities in Myanmar seized power. The country has been in turmoil ever since.

More than 1,100 people have been killed and over 200,000 have either been displaced internally or fled across the borders to neighbouring countries.

The economy is in freefall and the United Nations estimates that more than half the population could fall below the poverty line by 2022. The Covid-19 pandemic has further ravaged the country. Today's Myanmar is already being viewed by many as a failed state.

The National Unity Government (NUG) formed by representatives and supporters of the former elected government has declared a "people's defensive war" against the junta. Some 200 militias are believed to be active across the country, with a number promoting separatist ambitions in a country known for its fissiparous tendencies.

The plight of the Rohingya, so prominent on the international community's agenda prior to the coup, has been eclipsed by the larger crisis.

What is clear is that many of the people of Myanmar, having had a taste of democratic rights and freedoms, are not willing to be subservient to unelected military rulers.

It is also evident that the trampling on democracy in the country and its regional repercussions are a serious concern for Asean, which held an extraordinary summit in Jakarta on April 24 this year. The summit arrived at a five-point consensus, one to which the leader of the military regime was himself a party.

Asean foreign ministers have now decided that, given the lack of progress on the implementation of that consensus and the lack of cooperation from the authorities in Yangon, the organisation will exclude the head of the junta from participating at the forthcoming Asean summit.

We have noted the announcement by the military regime on Oct 18 that some 5,000 detainees are being released from prison. While this is a welcome development, prominent political prisoners remain behind bars and this action does not adequately alleviate the concerns of the people of Myanmar and the international community.

We in the Global Leadership Foundation firmly believe that representative democracy, fundamental human rights, and the rule of law must be restored to the people of Myanmar without further delay.

To that end, we urge that all those unjustly detained by the military junta be released and that violence against unarmed civilians be brought to an immediate end.

We are firm in our conviction that the five-point Asean consensus offers the only route forward to a peaceful resolution of the crisis. We call upon the authorities in Yangon to cooperate fully with the Asean special envoy in that regard, including by providing access to all stakeholders in the country.

As a member state of Asean, and as a party to the five-point consensus, Myanmar owes it to the regional organisation to do no less.

We urge the international community to put its collective weight behind the effort by Asean to find a negotiated way forward from the current impasse. We call on the governments of China and the United States in particular to work together to bring their considerable influence to bear on the situation.

It helps that the governments of both countries have publicly expressed support for the Asean initiative and have called for a broad-based political dialogue in Myanmar to bring about democratic transformation.

The continuing anguish of the people of Myanmar is a blot on the conscience of the international community and must be brought to an end by the speediest possible means.

*** Helen Clark is former prime minister of New Zealand and interim chair of the Global Leadership Foundation (GLF). Marzuki Darusman is former Indonesian attorney general and a member of GLF.

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