Rights groups and activists are urging the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to deny legitimacy to Myanmar’s coup leader and even consider the country’s expulsion from the regional bloc over rights abuses by security forces, as leaders of the member states prepare to attend a summit in Jakarta.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who led the February 1 coup that deposed Myanmar’s democratically-elected government, is expected to participate in Saturday’s summit of the 10-member ASEAN alongside seven head of states.
Thailand’s prime minister and the president of the Philippines have said they would send their foreign ministers. ASEAN’s other members include Myanmar itself, Brunei, Cambodia, the host Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.
The meeting is the first concerted international effort to ease the crisis in Myanmar where security forces have killed hundreds of pro-democracy protesters since the February 1 coup.
It is also a test for ASEAN, which traditionally does not interfere in the internal affairs of a member state and operates by consensus.
“Min Aung Hlaing should face a courtroom for his crimes – not be given the red carpet treatment.”
— Olof Blomqvist (@olofblomqvist) April 23, 2021
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged ASEAN leaders to help prevent an escalation of the crisis and “possible grave humanitarian implications beyond Myanmar’s borders,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Wednesday.
He said UN special envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener “will be in Jakarta to engage ASEAN leaders on the sidelines of Saturday’s meeting, focusing on a political solution”.
On Friday, Fortify Rights said that by inviting coup leader Min Aung Hlaing and ignoring Myanmar’s elected civilian leaders, ASEAN “lends legitimacy to an illegal and brutal military regime”.
If the coup leader “fails to demonstrate an immediate end to the military government’s attempted coup and attack on civilians, then ASEAN member states should consider ousting Myanmar from the regional bloc,” said Ismail Wolff, the regional director of the rights organisation.
He urged ASEAN to instead work with the international community “to bring effective pressure to bear on Myanmar’s murderous regime.”
Earlier, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), a group of Myanmar citizens overseas, also called on the ASEAN to “unite to push the Myanmar junta to end horrific abuses against ordinary people and ensure it does not to recognise the military as the country’s legitimate rulers.
“This Summit is ASEAN’s last chance to prove that it can end a crisis in its own neighbourhood. While the diplomatic efforts of countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are commendable, it is a stain on the region as a whole that others continue to defend the Tatmadaw [military].
“Southeast Asian leaders must stand united and condemn Myanmar’s military for the brutal violence it has unleashed against its own people since the coup,” said Tun Khin, the president of BROUK.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an activist group, says 739 people have been killed by Myanmar’s security forces since the coup and 3,300 people are in detention as of Thursday.
On Friday, there have been more reports of several protesters allegedly being nabbed from the streets by security personnel. Sporadic protests have also been reported in several townships and cities across the country.
Myanmar’s military has shown no sign of wanting to talk to members of the government it removed, accusing some of them of treason, which is punishable by death.
Analysts and former diplomats say the summit could be the most consequential in ASEAN’s 54-year history.
It was imperative there was “a concrete and tangible outcome,” said Rizal Sukma, a senior research fellow at the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies and, until last year, Indonesia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom.
“The summit cannot be another round of expression of concern.”
Malaysia and the Philippines have said they would support a plan for the ASEAN chair, Brunei, and the group’s secretary-general, or their representatives, to visit Myanmar.
ASEAN officials have also been considering a proposal for a humanitarian mission to Myanmar that would deliver medical supplies needed to counter COVID-19 and other illnesses, along with food. This could be a potential first step in a long-term plan to broker dialogue between the military government and its opponents, diplomats told the Reuters news agency.
Last week, pro-democracy politicians, including removed members of parliament, announced the formation of a National Unity Government (NUG) that nominally includes deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the coup, as well as leaders of the protests and ethnic minorities.
Myanmar’s home affairs ministry has declared the NUG unlawful, but the NUG says it is the legitimate authority in Myanmar and has requested international recognition and an invitation to the Jakarta meeting. It has also demanded that ASEAN withdraw the invitation to the military government leader.
“Please, ASEAN member states, (do) not recognise the coup,” said Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, who has been named as a minister in the NUG.
“Please recognise and hear the cry of Myanmar’s people … by collaborating, supporting or recognising the National Unity Government of Myanmar,” she said in a call on Thursday with an ASEAN MPs’ group.