Can Asean deal with international crimes?
The issue of accountability for international crimes has come to the fore poignantly with the report of the UN's Independent International Fact-finding Commission on Myanmar. The Commission finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed in the country, particularly impacting on the Rohingya community in Rakhine state. Significantly, it calls upon Asean to "develop strategies to ensure accountability for perpetrators of crimes under international law, including through sustained engagement with Myanmar and support for an international justice mechanism".
Can Asean really develop a strategy or strategies on accountability in relation to such crimes? The obvious impediments include the "Asean's non-interference in internal affairs" argument and consensus-based decision-making which are often invoked by less liberal sectors in the region, steeped in a sense of exceptionalism. Yet, the shocking violations in Rakhine state and other regions of Myanmar are a blight on the history of Southeast Asia which demand justice and action against impunity.
In essence, accountability is about the framework of responsibility, the groundwork against impunity and the homework of remedies. It may pertain to responsibility on the part of the state, individuals and or groups. It is not only about criminal responsibility but also about civil liability. In a less legal sense, it concerns a gamut of leverages to hold those responsible for human rights violations to account, which may include political and social pressures, especially with a robust civil society and media, such as through societal exposure and recrimination. It has also a historical and psychological edge pertaining to the call for transparent documentation of historical events and the ventilation of grievances through a cathartic truth-seeking avenue.
Professor of law at Chulalongkorn University
Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn teaches at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. He has helped the UN in a variety of positions and is currently a member of a UN Human Rights Commission of Inquiry. This article is derived from his speech at the recent Conference on Asean Traversing 2015: Challenges of Development, Democratisation, Human Rights and Peace, organised by Mahidol University, Bangkok.