*The list of signatories has been updated on 26 October 2022.
To: ASEAN Leaders
H.E. Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, Prime Minister of Brunei Darussalam
H.E. Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia
H.E. Joko Widodo, President of the Republic of Indonesia
H.E. Thongloun Sisoulith, Prime Minister of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic
H.E. Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri bin Yaakob, Prime Minister of Malaysia
H.E. Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos, Jr., President of the Republic of the Philippines
H.E. Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore
H.E. Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand
H.E. Phạm Minh Chính, Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
26 October 2022
Subject: Open letter from civil society organizations concerning ASEAN’s approach to the ongoing political, human rights and humanitarian crisis in Myanmar
We, the 505 undersigned Myanmar, regional and international civil society organizations, call on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (‘ASEAN’) to cease inviting all political and non-political representatives of the Myanmar military junta to all summits and meetings, and revise the mandate of the Special Envoy to Myanmar. We further call on ASEAN under the Indonesian Chairship, as a regional bloc and as individual states, to move beyond the failed Five-Point Consensus (‘5PC’), enable effective humanitarian assistance, and publicly recognize the National Unity Government.
For the past 20 months since the failed coup, ASEAN has been largely ineffective in responding to the escalating crisis in Myanmar. ASEAN’s “dialogue” demonstrates a selective approach to the 5PC and yields no results to stop the ongoing crisis in Myanmar. Despite being put on notice for non-compliance with the 5PC in a joint communique in August 2022, the junta has continued committing atrocity crimes against the Myanmar people. Just one month after the warning, the junta’s airstrikes on a school in Sagaing Region killed 11 children.
The exclusion of the junta from ASEAN Summits in October 2021 and November 2022 was a step in the right direction. We also note positive stances taken by Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore, and welcome the bloc’s statement in July 2022. Nevertheless, any engagement with the junta is in breach of the ASEAN Charter. The crimes that are being committed by the Myanmar military amount to acts of a terrorist organization under international legal definitions and Myanmar’s domestic laws. The Myanmar military stands accused of atrocity crimes at the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, and under a universal jurisdiction case in Argentina. We are alarmed that this illegal entity holds sway in ASEAN’s actions.
Mandate of Special Envoy
Since the establishment of the desultory 5PC, the mandate of the ASEAN Special Envoy (‘SE’) has proven unsuccessful in resolving, let alone positively impacting, the worsening crisis in Myanmar. Several efforts by the SE, and by extension of ASEAN, to initiate “dialogues” and “visits” to the military junta have not actualized in any meaningful progress. Instead, such actions have condoned and emboldened the illegal junta to continue its heinous crimes with blanket impunity.
Evident in the visits by the second SE, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, in March and June 2022, the junta has been reassured of ASEAN’s inaction and launched intense aerial attacks against civilians and spiked the death toll of children. State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was repeatedly given additional prison sentences, along with her economic adviser, Sean Turnell. It is a shame that, per the junta’s disapproval, in none of the visits was the SE allowed access to the State Counsellor and other arbitrarily detained parliamentarians elected in the November 2020 general elections. The SE has further failed to meet with the Acting President, Prime Minister or other officials of the National Unity Government (‘NUG’), the legitimate government of Myanmar, key ethnic revolutionary organizations (‘EROs’) and civil society organizations (‘CSOs’).
The junta was emboldened to carry out extrajudicial executions of four political activists in July despite the appeal from ASEAN Chair, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. The executions clearly demonstrated, as Singapore’s Foreign Minister put it, “the high level of cynicism or even outright disrespect for the role of ASEAN”. We are deeply disappointed that such a reprehensible action, which may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, was met with no more than empty condemnation.
These imprudent engagements of the SE further caused extensive damage to the struggle of Myanmar people to end military tyranny and establish a federal democracy. Such actions stand in contrast to the 5PC’s promise to strive for a solution “in the interests of the people”. Furthermore, the vague nature of the SE mandate has so far created public confusion of whether the mandate is a political mediator, interlocutor or focused on humanitarian delivery.
Humanitarian Aid and AHA Centre
ASEAN’s ongoing cooperation and engagement with the military junta to deliver humanitarian aid through the bloc’s Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (‘AHA Centre’) has only exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. The AHA Centre, designed to tackle natural disasters, is ill-equipped to deal with a multi-dimensional political crisis. With its operating procedures, the Centre relies on the junta for access and is dictated by a board consisting of the junta’s Myanmar Task Force. Aid is being weaponized by the very perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes that led to the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and of the genocide of the Rohingya in 2017. The former Executive Director of the AHA Centre stated that the junta “is unwilling to provide access to the people in line with humanitarian principles,” and called on ASEAN to remove the junta as aid partner.
Local humanitarian actors and CSOs have been effectively delivering the much-needed humanitarian assistance to communities since the failed coup, along with the NUG and EROs. Border-based CSOs have been indispensable in assisting groups in hardest-to-reach areas with financial and subsistence support. The NUG provided 2.73 billion Myanmar Kyat to internally displaced people and the Civil Disobedience Movement in a year. Meanwhile, international humanitarian organizations, UN agencies and the AHA Centre have been largely unable to reach those most in need. In his letter to the ASEAN Secretary-General, the Malaysian Foreign Minister noted that “the special [humanitarian] task force formed by ASEAN together with the junta is not working well”. With the lack of trust in the junta as a result of its ongoing campaign of terror and weaponization of aid, local aid providers are increasingly unwilling to work with the junta or organizations linked to it.
While Myanmar people themselves are sacrificing their lives, livelihoods and futures for the future of their young generations, ASEAN must take concrete actions to end all inhumane acts committed by the military junta. We appeal to the Indonesian President, set to assume ASEAN Chairship in 2023, to support the will of the Myanmar people.
It is imperative that ASEAN no longer holds official meetings with the junta or recognizes it and its representatives as the government of Myanmar. The bloc must bar all junta representatives, political and non-political, from all ASEAN summits and meetings, including the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). Such disengagement must include ending defense ties with the Myanmar junta. ASEAN must officially recognize the NUG, allowing its delegation to the bloc and member states.
We strongly urge ASEAN to move beyond the 5PC and develop a plan that includes clear benchmarks and indicators of success to realistically measure progress. The plan must be based on extensive consultation with the NUG, the National Unity Consultative Council (‘NUCC’), EROs and CSOs. ASEAN must establish actionable punitive measures upon the junta’s non-compliance with the 5PC to cease the ongoing violence.
At the November Summit, we also call on ASEAN to amend the mandate of the SE to be a full-time position from 2023 onwards with a three-year term, appointed by the ASEAN Chair, and to represent and be accountable to ASEAN as a whole. The SE must have clear terms of reference not for peace-brokering, but be grounded in human rights principles, justice and accountability, and the will of the Myanmar people. The mandate must hold authority and independence to take actions unencumbered by the delay of infrequent ASEAN high-level meetings. The mandate must immediately open formal communications and engage with the NUG, the NUCC, EROs, CSOs and the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.
On humanitarian aid, ASEAN must stop partnering with the junta and recognize that the AHA Centre cannot address the humanitarian crisis. We recommend to ASEAN to take a solidarity-based approach to facilitate cross-border aid by working in partnership with local humanitarian actors, the NUG and EROs. ASEAN members must also accept and provide protection for asylum seekers from Myanmar. All regional efforts must be based on humanitarian principles of do-no-harm, humanity and impartiality, and the agency of displaced communities.
The political, human rights and humanitarian crisis in Myanmar is not merely an “internal affair,” but a threat to regional security and stability which ASEAN vowed to protect. Without swift action, Myanmar’s neighboring countries and ASEAN states will continue to face the influx of refugees, loss of commercial interests and irreparable reputational damage. We believe that ASEAN’s credibility depends on its ability to act in a timely manner to effectively prevent the junta’s violence and destruction spilling over and destabilizing the entire region.
We CSOs remain at your disposal to ensure the bloc’s effective action in addressing the needs of Myanmar people in line with their will and aspirations.
For more information, please contact:
Signed by 505 organizations including 301 organizations who have chosen to not disclose their name:
*The list of signatories has been updated on 26 October 2022.