ASEAN Must End its Repeated Failures and Start Supporting the Myanmar People

May 20th, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  9 minute read
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“we believe that this decision will enable the military junta to weaponize humanitarian aid to gain legitimacy and commit more human rights atrocities against the people of the country.”

a statement signed by 765 Myanmar and regional civil society organizations

ASEAN’s ongoing cooperation and engagement with the military junta in Myanmar, pledging to deliver humanitarian aid via the institution that has created the humanitarian crisis, and its continuing military-to-military engagements, reflect its repeated failures to the people of Myanmar. The recent US-ASEAN Special Summit, which went ahead without participation from a representative from Myanmar, should have been an opportunity to push ASEAN to take stronger action on Myanmar, but, frustratingly, this did not happen.

The recent US-ASEAN summit produced a statement that, while calling for the cessation of violence, still keeps flogging the dead horse of the ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus – an agreement between ASEAN leaders and junta leader, Min Aung Hlaing in April 2021. To date, the military junta has not made any meaningful steps to adhere to the five points, in particular the cessation of violence which has markedly increased since the consensus was agreed. The summit also had an empty chair for Myanmar, a reflection of the growing pariah status of the military. The National Unity Government’s (NUG) Foreign Affairs Minister, Zin Mar Aung, did meet with US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman beforehand, but she was not a party to the summit itself. While engagement by foreign governments with the NUG is welcomed, given that they are the legitimate government of Myanmar, this should be the norm, not an exception. ASEAN itself must also meet with the NUG, as the Malaysian Foriegn Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah, did on the sidelines of the Summit – a positive step.

Under the Chairship of Cambodia, which hosted the Consultative Meeting on ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance to Myanmar on 6th of May, ASEAN decided to continue its policy of cooperating with the junta for the provision of humanitarian aid before the summit in the US. Through ASEAN’s intergovernmental humanitarian arm, the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre), humanitarian aid from the bloc will go through the junta appointed Myanmar Task Force. Nowhere in its statement does the bloc recognise that it is the junta itself which is causing the humanitarian crisis through its failed, violent coup attempt and subsequent crackdown and atrocity crimes committed throughout the country against those who resist. The Myanmar Task Force is merely an extension of the Myanmar junta. As a statement signed by 765 Myanmar and regional civil society organizations outlined, “we believe that this decision will enable the military junta to weaponize humanitarian aid to gain legitimacy and commit more human rights atrocities against the people of the country.”

It is perhaps unsurprising that the statement after the Consultative Meeting on ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance to Myanmar doesn’t acknowledge or address the cause of the dire humanitarian conditions that many communities in Myanmar are facing, because it was a junta representative that attended the Consultative Meeting. The National Unity Government (NUG), made up of elected lawmakers and ethnic leaders, was not invited to the meeting, neither was the United Nations Special Envoy to Myanmar, H.E. Noeleen Heyzer. If ASEAN was serious about delivering humanitarian aid that would reach communities in need, it would push to provide such assistance through cross-border channels, and local service providers. It would also push for Myanmar’s neighbors, particularly Thailand, to open its doors for refugees to cross unimpeded and allow unrestricted access to displaced populations fleeing the junta’s violence. Instead, ASEAN is providing assistance through a military that is causing this displacement.

This was a point clearly made in a webinar in the lead-up to ASEAN’s Consultative Meeting on ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance to Myanmar, by Myanmar regional and civil society actors. One of the speakers, Adelina Kamal, former Executive Director of the AHA Centre, asked a pertinent question “how can we trust the outcome of the meeting when the source of the violence is present?” A post-webinar statement by the organizers further urged “Trusted local non-state actors and the broader existing network as a potential entry point in the border must be considered, including ethnic community-based health or faith-based organizations that have been providing health, education and other essential services to conflict-affected populations along the borders for decades.”

However, it is not just humanitarian cooperation that ASEAN engages the military junta with. It is also aiding and abetting the military through defense ties. In a recent investigation, the activist campaign group, Justice For Myanmar, revealed that ASEAN also maintains military ties with the junta. The junta has been a part of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting, thus allowing it to participate in “meetings, training, intelligence exchanges, arms production, R&D, cyber security, and education.”

ASEAN’s approach only helps to embolden the junta, and could be aiding and abetting their grave atrocity crimes rather than solving them. It panders to the Myanmar military, cooperating on defense issues, and pledges humanitarian aid to be delivered through the institution that is attacking the people of Myanmar and creating the humanitarian crisis. To make matters worse, the rest of the international community is deferring to ASEAN’s failed Five Point Consensus, which the military junta has zero political will to take seriously. Thus if the broader international community continues to rely on ASEAN, it is also enabling the junta’s crimes. This is in stark contrast to the response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, in which the US-led support to the Ukrainian resistance, but not Myanmar, reveals a double standard when dealing with despotic militaries.

ASEAN must abandon the Five Point Consensus and form a new approach that deals with a terrorist group – the Myanmar military junta – within the borders of the bloc. It must deal substantively with the NUG for diplomatic ties, and any humanitarian assistance must be provided through the local humanitarian networks, community-based organizations, cross-border channels, and ethnic service providers. Furthermore, countries like the US must stop hiding behind ASEAN and its failed Five Point Consensus as a shield of their own inaction, and take stronger measures. Their response to the invasion of Ukraine shows what kind of support the people of Myanmar are missing. At the minimum the US should sanction the military, including sanctioning the main foreign revenue stream for the junta, the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, coordinate a global arms embargo, and recognize the NUG.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

ASEAN: Decision on humanitarian assistance on Myanmar must include all related parties to avoid aid weaponization by the junta

By 765 Myanmar, regional and international organizations

Myanmar: ASEAN must kickstart stalled approach to human rights crisis at US summit

By Amnesty International

Statement to the US and ASEAN on Myanmar ahead of summit in Washington

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Arrests of Activists, Journalists Continue in Myanmar as Military Tribunals Impose Harsh Sentences

By CIVICUS Monitor

(၉) ကြိမ်မြောက် ရခိုင်အမျိုးသားနေ့သို့ ပေးပို့သည့် သဝဏ်လွှာ

By Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw

US-ASEAN: Promote Rights, Democracy at Summit

By Human Rights Watch

Myanmar: Rebuilding lives in Rakhine

By International Committee of the Red Cross

ASEAN’s complicity in the Myanmar military’s atrocity crimes exposed

By Justice For Myanmar

ကရင်အမျိုးသားအစည်းအရုံး (KNU/KNLA), ကရင်နီအမျိုးသားတိုးတက်ရေးပါတီ (KNPP/KA) နှင့် ချင်းအမျိုးသားတပ်ဦး (CNF/CNA) တို့၏ ပူးတွဲထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက်

By Karen National Union, Karenni National Progressive Party and Chin National Front

Joint Statement of Karen National Union, Karenni National Progressive Party, and Chin National Front – Statement No. 2/2022

By Karen National Union, Karenni National Progressive Party and Chin National Front

Statement on Delivery of Humanitarian Assistance through the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre)

By National Unity Consultative Council

Two youth forced to transport SAC troops killed in roadside ambush in Muse, northern Shan State

By Shan Human Rights Foundation

ASEAN Risks Flouting All Humanitarian Principles

By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar

ASEAN-U.S. Special Summit 2022, Joint Vision Statement

By The White House

The Deputy Secretary’s Meeting with NUG Representatives

By United States Department of State

UNODC supporting community-based treatment for people who use drugs in Kachin IDP camps and surrounding communities

By United Nations Myanmar

UNICEF and partners expand mental health services for children and young people

By United Nations Children’s Fund



Fact Sheet: International response to Ukraine situation highlights sluggishness on Burma/Myanmar

By ALTSEAN-Burma and Blood Money Campaign

MIMU 5W/ Overview of Rakhine State as of 25th March, 2022 (May 2022)

By Myanmar Information Management Unit

The Enduring Challenges to Democratic Transition in Myanmar

By Observer Research Foundation

Extrajudicial killing, torture, arbitrary arrest, looting, torching of houses by SAC troops in Ywangan, southern Shan State, February-April, 2022

By Shan Human Rights Foundation

ရှမ်းပြည်တောင်ပိုင်းရွာငံမြို့နယ်အတွင်း ၂၀၂၂ခုနှစ် ဖေဖော်ဝါရီလမှဧပြီလထိ စစ်ကောင်စီ တပ်သား များမှ တရားလက်လွတ်သတ်ဖြတ်မှု၊ မတရားဖမ်းဆီးမှု၊ လုယက်မှု ၊အိမ်မီးရှို့ဖျက်ဆီးမှုများ ကျူးလွန်ခဲ့

By Shan Human Rights Foundation

Myanmar: Humanitarian Response Plan 2022 – Quarter One Dashboard (Jan – Mar 2022)

By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”