Anwar slams ASEAN on Myanmar: Non-interference not license for indifference

Regional bloc cannot use consensus decisions to stay indifferent to rights violations by Burmese junta, he says.
Muzliza Mustafa and Shailaja Neelakantan for BenarNews
Kuala Lumpur and Washington
Anwar slams ASEAN on Myanmar: Non-interference not license for indifference Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim delivers a lecture after receiving an honorary doctorate degree at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, suburban Manila, March 2, 2023.
[Ted Aljibe/AFP]

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim slammed ASEAN on Thursday for its inaction on Myanmar, saying the regional bloc’s principle of non-interference in member-states’ affairs must not descend into indifference.

Consensus-based decision making should not devolve into silence on violations of the bloc’s core principles of respect for democratic values, human rights and fundamental freedoms, he said during a lecture at the University of the Philippines in Metro Manila.

Anwar, who is on an official visit to the Philippines, spoke to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. a day earlier about Myanmar, suggesting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should explore new approaches to resolving the post-coup crisis there.

Myanmar’s military, which toppled an elected government on Feb. 1, 2021, reneged on a five-point consensus – a roadmap to restore peace and democracy – it “agreed to” with other ASEAN members in April that year.

But aside from barring the junta’s representatives from the ASEAN summit and top ministerial meetings, the regional bloc has done little else to penalize the Myanmar military for going back on its word.

Analysts have said that’s because there is a schism within ASEAN’s member-states – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore are strongly opposed to the Myanmar junta, while the other member-states, especially Thailand, not so much.

In such a scenario, critics have said, decision-making by consensus has greatly hamstrung ASEAN, and yet, Anwar said, it remains the bloc’s central tenet.

“This, however, does not mean that ASEAN should remain silent over developments in member states that affect the wider region, or particularly egregious violations of the ASEAN Charter by its own members,” he said.

“In all honesty, I believe that non-interference is not a license for indifference,” Anwar said during his lecture after receiving an honorary doctorate degree from the university.

‘The cause of justice’

On Wednesday, the Malaysian PM told reporters in Manila that the unrest in Myanmar – where more than 3,000 people have been killed since the coup – was adversely affecting his country, “due to the huge number of refugees exceeding 200,000 people now in Malaysia.”

He said the Myanmar issue “cannot be considered as purely internal because it’s affecting the security and welfare of the region.”

Last month, on an official visit to Thailand, Anwar went so far as to say, “we should carve Myanmar out for now,” news media reported. He did not elaborate at the time.

On Thursday he again referred to the phrase.

“[W]hen I mentioned in Bangkok recently about the need to temporarily carve out Myanmar, on account of the blatant human rights violations, it was said in the larger context of the imperative to stay true to one of the key ideals of ASEAN, which is nothing less than to stand for the cause of justice and the rule of law,” Anwar said.

Back in February, Anwar also told his Thai counterpart Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who has close ties with the Burmese military, that the Thai PM is “in a better position to express many of our concerns that the internal issue in Myanmar has to be resolved internally,” media reported.

Malaysia has been among the most vocal ASEAN members pushing the regional bloc to devise new approaches and take strong action against a willful Myanmar military.

Before Anwar’s government took office in November, Myanmar’s parallel civilian government had former Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah as one of its most prominent allies.

Following Myanmar’s coup, Saifuddin was the first ASEAN foreign minister to contact the parallel National Unity Government, publicly meet with its foreign minister and push for the regional bloc to actively engage with it.

Saifuddin also was the first ASEAN foreign minister to broach the idea of scrapping the five-point consensus.

Current ASEAN chair Indonesia is steadfastly holding on to the five-point consensus as the plan to work in accordance with.

Much was expected of Indonesia when it took over as rotating chair of ASEAN in January, especially in resolving the Myanmar crisis.

The country is a founding member of ASEAN, Southeast Asia largest, the world’s third-largest democracy and has experience in transitioning from a dictatorship to a democracy.

Jakarta has, however, been dialing down these expectations, saying it won’t resort to megaphone diplomacy, while adding that it was impossible to resolve the Myanmar crisis during its term as ASEAN chair.

Anwar, meanwhile, quoted Philippine hero Jose Rizal to note that “Justice is the foremost virtue of the civilizing races.

“It subdues the barbarous nations, while injustice arouses the weakest.”

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service


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