An Open Letter to the ASEAN Heads of State: On the worsening humanitarian situation in Kachin and Northern Shan states in Myanmar

To the honorable heads of states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

We, the undersigned solidarity movements and democracy observers in Southeast Asia and the Asia Pacific, appeal to the governments of ASEAN member-countries to take immediate steps in addressing the worsening humanitarian situation in Kachin and the northern Shan states in Myanmar.

We point to a systematic disregard of basic human rights, international humanitarian law, and the universal tenets on moral decency and human dignity, in the face of the escalating armed conflict between the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which resumed in 2011. Aside from the economic and human costs of war, the strife has displaced more than 120,000 civilians into 167 camps across the affected regions.

The Myanmar government, at this point, cannot invoke ASEAN’s policy of non-interference on national affairs, as it has wantonly and consciously escalated the situation into an alarming humanitarian crisis, one which has not escaped the attention and concern of the peoples of the world, and of ASEAN peoples in particular.
Inaction on the part of the ASEAN may lead to a further worsening of the situation, which would threaten not only peace and stability in the region but also the ongoing peace process and nation-building currently pursued by the Myanmar government itself. The escalation of the armed conflict further undermines Myanmar’s global stature and presence, after decades of diplomatic isolation.

The ASEAN, now celebrating its fiftieth year, should regard this dire situation as a humiliating blemish on its commitment to “partner for change and engage the world”, which is the main theme of its 2017 Summit in Manila.

Hence, we call on ASEAN member-states to:

1)    Urge the Myanmar government, particularly the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw), to abide by the nationwide ceasefire agreement in its pursuit of the peace process (Panglong Agreement), and to fully respect civilian protection in adherence to International Humanitarian Law on internally displaced persons (IDPs) and Human Rights Law. Also, the Myanmar government must recognize the deep historical roots of the ethno-nationalist conflicts and struggles for self-determination of its peoples, which cannot be resolved by brute military force;

2)    Call on all parties and humanitarian actors to take all measures to ensure the security and safety of IDPs, particularly women and children in refugee camps, and to demilitarize all IDP camps. Furthermore, help facilitate the safe and dignified return of IDPs to their respective communities by restoring lost livelihood and development, caused by the armed conflict.

3)    Demand that the Myanmar government and the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw), ensure unimpeded and safe humanitarian assistance and access to immediate aid and relief to peoples affected by the humanitarian crisis in Kachin and the Northern Shan states. Declining access to food and clean water, disruption of children’s education, and the unavailability of health care, are among the major problems now faced by IDPs in these conflict-torn areas; and,

4)    For the ASEAN member-states to conduct their own humanitarian and civilian protection initiatives, in line with ASEAN’s own thematic priorities for 2017 onwards, calling for a people-oriented and people-centered Southeast Asia.

Crucial to the meaningful celebration of the 50th anniversary of the ASEAN and the realization of its goals should be a firm commitment to translate all its well-crafted slogans into actions and turn such visions into reality. ASEAN should realize that an inclusive and sustainable regional peace and security cannot be achieved if it remains detached from and indifferent to the realities on the ground.
The humanitarian crisis in Kachin and the Northern Shan states in Myanmar furthermore, should serve as both an opportunity and a challenge to the ASEAN, now on its 50th anniversary, to reconstitute and recalibrate itself, by forging a stronger, clearer  and principled position on issues of justice, peace, and human rights, further gaining for itself the respect and recognition of the global community of nations.

Signed:
Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)
ASIA-PACIFIC SOLIDARITY COALITION (APSOC)
Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict – Southeast Asia (GPPAC-SEA)

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