As the 42nd ASEAN Summit gets underway, Indonesia, as current Chair, must lead the regional bloc to take decisive action as called for by civil society that goes beyond the Five Point Consensus (5PC) which has proven to be ineffective in addressing Myanmar’s multifaceted crisis. Furthermore concurrent, opaque processes, such as the recent ‘Track 1.5’ meeting in India serve no purpose but to strengthen the junta’s diplomatic position and lend it legitimacy, further emboldening it to continue wielding its campaign of terror against the people of Myanmar.
Ahead of the ASEAN summit, an open letter by 40 Myanmar and regional civil society organizations called on ASEAN to “revise and review” the 5PC, agreed upon two years ago between Min Aung Hlaing and ASEAN. The 5PC was agreed ostensibly to address the junta’s coup attempt through the end to violence, for dialogue between all parties, the appointment of an ASEAN special envoy, the provision of aid through the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre), and for the special envoy to engage with all parties in Myanmar. As repeatedly demonstrated, the 5PC has been a complete failure, with the civil society statement pointing out that its agreement with junta leader, Min Aung Hlaing, means it has no legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Myanmar, while the junta has since “completely disregarded” the agreement.
In addition to the statement, another joint civil society effort that was published ahead of the ASEAN Summit gives five concrete points of action that ASEAN must take to effectively address the crisis and stand with the people of Myanmar. These include: to take action to end all violence and protect civilians; to convene a consultation with actual legitimate stakeholders that represent the Myanmar people including the National Unity Government (NUG), the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations (EROs) and civil society; expand and clearly define the Special Envoy’s mandate; provide direct humanitarian assistance through local civil society and border based organizations rather than the AHA Centre; and for the Special Envoy to engage with the NUG, the CRPH, the NUCC, EROs and civil society. While Indonesia, as the current ASEAN chair, has revealed that it has had 60 engagements with various stakeholders including the NUG, which is welcomed, the lack of transparency surrounding the content and substance of such discussions is a concern. This ‘quiet diplomacy’ approach, as former Indonesian Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa commented, risks becoming a “deafening silence.”
Other regional diplomatic efforts are also failing the people of Myanmar. The secretive meeting ‘Track 1.5’ was held in New Delhi, India on 26 April, 2023 ahead of the ASEAN Summit, which included ASEAN member states Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – with ASEAN chair, Indonesia as observer – as well as China and Bangladesh. This is the second iteration of the ‘Track 1.5’ talks, the first of which occurred in Thailand on 13 March, 2023, yet neither rounds have included the NUG, the legitimate government of Myanmar. The Track 1.5 talks ostensibly resulted in informal agreements regarding reduction of violence on “all sides”, transnational crime and provision of humanitarian aid to Myanmar. Yet, such an approach or effort without engagement with the legitimate stakeholders, particularly the NUG, NUCC, EROs and civil society while engaging with and lending legitimacy to the military junta which is the source of the violence, coupled with the lack of punitive measures to stop the atrocities committed by the Myanmar military, merely constitutes ensuring that the quagmire in Myanmar has a minimal impact on these countries’ own territory, interests, and investments. It is absurd to believe that relying on a genocidal military to engage in such talks in good faith will bring an acceptable solution. This is something that the people of Myanmar will not accept until they have defeated the military junta and federal democracy is established.
Additionally, India, the host of the most recent “Track 1.5” talks, is one of the biggest suppliers of lethal weapons and ammunition to the Myanmar military. According to activist group, Justice For Myanmar, in October 2022, the Myanmar military received a shipment of 20 pieces of 122mm barrels for howitzers, the artillery guns which the military troops have fired into civilian areas. While discussing the reduction of violence with the Myanmar military, India remains complicit in the junta’s atrocities.
While neighboring countries attempt to secure their own interests and give tacit support to the junta in the process, the atrocities including killings, massacres, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, destruction of civilian homes, schools, hospitals, religious buildings and entire villages continue on a daily basis. The junta is increasingly resorting to airstrikes, which deliberately target civilian populations. In April 2023 alone, the junta’s air force carried out 47 airstrikes, dropping more than 80 bombs in Chin State, killing at least 19 people and destroying several religious buildings and civilian homes according to the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO). This is added to the horrific aerial bombing that killed at least 170 people in Pa Zi Gyi village in Sagaing Region in mid-April. Amid the fallout of intensified atrocities, including airstrikes, Myanmar has recorded the highest number of civilian casualties by airstrike in the world in 2023.
As the broader international community deflects responsibility for Myanmar’s peace and democracy to ASEAN, neighboring powers like India and China are doubling down on the junta. Despite their superficial peace rhetoric, ASEAN remains a crucial and critical player to resolve the Myanmar crisis. It must utilize all possible avenues and take decisive action by calling on the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo. ASEAN needs to turn a new page with Myanmar, write a new chapter and prove their words in action that protect Myanmar people and bring justice to their country. And if it is not now, when?
 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.
By 13 Shan Civil Society Organizations
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
By Committee to Protect Journalists
By Justice For Myanmar
By Justice For Myanmar
By National Unity Government of Myanmar
By National Unity Government (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
By National Unity Government (Ministry of Health)
By The Elders
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.”