How the Special Asean Summit on Myanmar can help stop the violence

Anti-coup protesters flash the three-finger sign of defiance during the demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on April 23, 2021. An Asean Special Summit on Myanmar begins today in Indonesia to consider plans to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict that has wracked Myanmar since its military launched a deadly crackdown on opponents to its seizure of power in February. — AP

WE are 744 individuals, 402 civil society organisations in Myanmar and 444 in other South-East Asian nations and globally. In alignment with the Special Asean Summit on Myanmar beginning today, we call on Asean, its leaders and member states to come up with an effective and sustainable strategy jointly with the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court and other international community actors to address the illegitimate and brutal coup carried out by the military junta in Myanmar and the atrocities it has committed.

We welcome the decision to hold the Special Asean Summit on Myanmar to discuss the worsening situation in Myanmar. However, in view of Asean member states' differing positions on the coup, we are extremely concerned that this special summit might decide that the crisis is solely within Myanmar's domestic affairs and therefore will refrain from taking any meaningful action in line with the "Asean Way" of non-interference and respect for “state sovereignty”.

The differing positions of Asean member states have made it difficult for Asean to reach a consensus and has resulted in equivocations and delayed responses while the military junta continues its deliberate, murderous attacks on Myanmar’s people. As evidenced from the outputs produced by the Informal Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting (IAFMM), Asean responses fall well short of meeting the will of the people of Myanmar. The chair’s statement at the IAFMM meeting neither specifically and publicly calls out the junta's brutality nor calls for stronger cooperation with the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council. Further, it also fails to mention Asean's commitment to support targeted economic sanctions against military personnel and related business entities, a global arms embargo, and referral of the Myanmar situation to the International Criminal Court.

Asean’s collective and meaningful action to uphold democracy is warranted at this time. Any decision by Asean leaders to treat the military junta as a legitimate representative of Myanmar at this summit will serve to legitimise its crimes and will thus damage not only Asean’s relationship with the peoples of Myanmar but also the movement for democracy and human rights in the region as a whole.

Further, Asean and its member states must recognise the legitimacy of the National Unity Government (NUG), the democratically-elected government of Myanmar, given that it represents 76% of elected members of the Union Parliament, ethnic leaders, the civil disobedience movement, and general strike committees endorsed by the people of Myanmar. Therefore, Myanmar must be represented by the NUG, not by the illegal junta that is trying to take control of the country through unprecedented brutality.

As we write this letter, violence against protesters and their supporters by the Myanmar military continues with no sign of abating along with killings. The junta has so far arbitrarily killed 739 people and arrested 3,331, including women, elderly people and children (data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) as of April 21, 2021).

In Karen and Kachin ethnic areas, the junta has been bombing villages, displacing more than 30,000 people. In these bombing attacks, civilians, including children, have lost their lives while survivors are struggling to find safety, shelter and food and face health issues – one

woman gave birth while she was fleeing.

Given the gravity of the situation, the increasing number of victims, and the impact of the crisis on the region's security and political stability, we strongly urge Asean to take firm and effective action to address the Myanmar coup through this special summit.

We urge all Asean leaders to heed the aspirations and will of the peoples of Myanmar. The voices of Myanmar people who have risked their lives in defense of democracy and justice must be the anchor, the conscience, behind any outcome of the Special Asean Summit on Myanmar.

Therefore, in solidarity with the people of Myanmar, we call on Asean leaders to immediately take the following actions:

>> Reject the presence of the illegitimate military junta as the representative of Myanmar at the summit.

>> Give Myanmar’s seat at the summit to its legitimate representative, the NUG.

>> Call for all violence against people and peaceful demonstrators as well as supporters and journalists to cease; for the release of all political prisoners, including human rights defenders, protesters and protest leaders and journalists; and for the lifting of all restrictions on the Internet and on communications more generally.

>> Establish a solid and coordinated response among Asean, the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council with the aim of sending a joint delegation to Myanmar to monitor the situation, end the violence and help negotiate a democratic, peaceful and human rights-based solution.

>> Fully support initiatives by the international community to impose a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions against the military, their personnel and business entities related to them, and for the UN Security Council to refer the Myanmar situation to the International Criminal Court.

>> Ensure access for humanitarian aid and health support to all affected areas in Myanmar, including opening cross-border humanitarian aid corridors.

>> Prioritse the safety, security and wellbeing of Myanmar asylum seekers and refugees, including the Rohingya.

>> Asean countries must not return Myanmar migrant workers and refugees back home regardless of their status. Asean destination countries should extend Myanmar migrant workers’ employment contracts for another year or more.

>> Take substantial measures against Myanmar, including suspending its membership of Asean. The suspension should only be lifted once the military junta accepts the authority of the NUG and places itself fully, permanently and unconditionally under NUG control; the junta is brought before the International Criminal Court; and democracy is fully established.

Only by moving beyond the "Asean Way" of consensus and non-interference can Asean intervene in the Myanmar situation in a meaningful and robust way.

Myanmar is on the verge of becoming a failed state, and it is in Asean's best interest to take a firm stance on these urgent and distressful developments. Failure to do so risks not only further damaging Asean's reputation as an effective regional body that can meaningfully contribute to a solid, just, humane and viable community of nations but will undermine Asean’s efforts to achieve its vision and mission of a caring, just and peaceful community of nations and people.


Note: This letter was signed by 744 individuals, 402 civil society organisations based in Myanmar, and 444 civil society organisations based in other South-East Asian countries and globally.

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military , junta , Aung San Suu Kyi , conflict


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