ASEAN Must Reverse Its Failed Course

September 8th, 2023  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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“You cannot use a disaster management mechanism and its tools to address human rights violations, crime against humanity, genocide, apartheid, state’s failure to protect civilians, refugees and force migration (among many others),”

Adelina Kamal, former Executive Director of AHA Centre

As the 43rd ASEAN Summit convened on 4 – 7 September 2023 in Jakarta, Indonesia, ASEAN has still yet to find a durable solution for the crisis in Myanmar. The Five-Point Consensus has clearly failed to effectively address the worsening situation and there has been absolutely no meaningful progress since its adoption in April 2021. Time is running out for ASEAN to save itself before the whole region drowns along with the multi-dimensional crisis of Myanmar created by the illegal junta. ASEAN must take principled steps and be accountable to Myanmar’s people, who – it must not be forgotten – are also peoples of ASEAN. First and foremost, ASEAN must cut ties with and exclude the military junta, a terrorist entity, from its entire mechanisms and all activities. ASEAN must respect and support the people’s aspirations and movement for a federal democratic Myanmar.

As a regional bloc, ASEAN has completely failed the people of Myanmar. Despite the fact that it has banned representatives of the junta from all high-level meetings, it continues to engage with the illegal entity by allowing them to participate in its “non-political” ministerial meetings and different activities and workshops. This includes the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus Experts’ Working Group (ADMM-Plus EWG) on Counter-Terrorism and its military exercises and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), among others.

What is worse, ASEAN continues to allow the international criminal outfit to be part of decision-making in some of its platforms and events. A recent example exposed by a report of Justice For Myanmar is that ASEAN is planning to hold a conference of air force chiefs in Naypyidaw on 12 – 15 September, chaired by the Air Chief Marshal of the illegal Myanmar junta, General Htun Aung. This is exactly how ASEAN’s actions have been emboldening the military junta – the body which has been constantly launching indiscriminate airstrikes across Myanmar since its illegal coup attempt in 2021. In the hearts of the Myanmar people, such unethical and immoral initiatives taken by ASEAN have failed them tremendously and will not be forgotten. By cooperating and siding with the war criminals, not only is ASEAN clearly breaching its human rights and democratic principles and values in its own Charter, but ASEAN is now complicit in the Myanmar junta’s crimes.

The ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) 2023, which took place on 1 – 3 September in Jakarta, Indonesia, has declared the Myanmar military as a terrorist organization. The statement read “We declare, in one thundering voice, “We are outraged!” Today, we designate the Myanmar military as a terrorist organization that threatens the security and stability of the region because it is committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

At the Myanmar Day: Hearing from People on the Ground and Experts in the Region event, Salai Za Uk Ling, Deputy Director of Chin Human Rights Organization, stressed that, in order to efficiently and effectively address the Myanmar crisis, the ASEAN Special Envoy’s mandate and role should be long-term rather than on a rotational basis under ASEAN chairship. Another regional expert, Adelina Kamal, former Executive Director of ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre), raised her concerns regarding ASEAN’s efforts to channel humanitarian aid to Myanmar through the AHA Centre, whose Governing Board – its decision-making body – includes the military junta. She also said “you cannot expect a rambutan tree to bear durian fruit,” meaning that it is not the right mechanism to solve Myanmar’s crisis. “You cannot use a disaster management mechanism and its tools to address human rights violations, crime against humanity, genocide, apartheid, state’s failure to protect civilians, refugees and force migration (among many others),” she said.

While ASEAN is rapidly losing credibility as a regional body, ASEAN individual Member States must take more concrete actions to fill this gap. ASEAN countries can look to the beacon of hope of, and a principled step taken by, Timor-Leste to firmly stand with the people of Myanmar by officially rejecting the Myanmar military and its illegal coup attempt. In response to Timor-Leste’s support and recognition of the legitimate government of Myanmar – the National Unity Government (NUG), the junta announced on 27 August that Timor-Leste’s Chargé d’Affaires had been told to leave Myanmar before 1 September. Despite this, the Government of Timor-Leste reiterated its solidarity with the Myanmar people. The bravery and moral leadership of the Timor-Leste Government is a ray of light for ASEAN’s peoples and should be the model for ASEAN countries in the protection of human rights and democracy in the region. For example, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar reported that Singapore is the third biggest supplier of arms and equipment to the Myanmar military since its coup attempt, in a trade valued at $254 million from at least 138 Singaporean companies. Singapore must immediately cut all business relationships with the military junta and take necessary measures; including targeted sanctions and cutting the financial flow and supply of arms and aviation fuel to the junta.

As a regional bloc, it is long past time ASEAN moved beyond the Five-Point Consensus and completely revamped its current failed approach. ASEAN individual Member States can and must take concrete steps to stop the junta’s atrocities and alleviate human suffering on the ground by imposing sanctions on arms transfer and cutting diplomatic and defense ties with the military junta. Furthermore, ASEAN must establish formal and official relationships and collaborate with the NUG and Ethnic Resistance Organizations.

ASEAN must also work with the UN to exercise the mandate provided by the UN Charter to protect the people of Myanmar from the junta’s escalating violence, as well as push the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or establish an ad hoc tribunal to secure accountability. ASEAN must heed the voices of the people of Myanmar and support people’s aspirations for a federal democratic Myanmar; this is the only way ASEAN can save itself from being complicit in the junta’s international crimes and the growing threats to stability and peace in the region.


[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

Open Letter to ASEAN Leaders and the Dialogue Partners

By 149 Organizations

Press Release: Human Rights Groups Call on Governments to End Burma/Myanmar Military’s Access to Jet Fuel and Weapons

By 149 Organizations

Philippine activists deride Myanmar junta’s expulsion of Timor-Leste’s top diplomat; appeals anew to ASEAN to impose sanctions

By Initiatives for International Dialogue and Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition

Inaugural Dirty Over 30 list pressures Singapore to block tycoons funnelling funds and arms to Myanmar war criminals

By Justice For Myanmar

JFM demands ASEAN cancel air force conference to be chaired by Myanmar war criminal in September

By Justice For Myanmar

ASEAN proceeding with military training exercise that aids Myanmar junta atrocities

By Justice For Myanmar

Joint Statement on US Sanctions towards Myanmar ahead of ASEAN and G20 summits

By Justice For Myanmar and The Sentry

Statement on International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

By Karen Human Rights Group

Farmer shot dead, his injured wife arrested by SAC troops in Pekhon township, southern Shan State

By Shan Human Rights Foundation



Timor-Leste or a democratic alliance for Spring Revolution. Issue 119

By Burma News International and Myanmar Peace Monitor

Summary of SAC human rights violations in Karenni State and Pekhon Township (Aug 14- Aug 27, 2023)

By Karenni Civil Society Network

အဖြေမဲ့နေဆဲဖြစ်သည့် ငြိမ်းချမ်းရေး

By Rehmonnya Institute for Civic Engagement (RICE)

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.”