Asean must help Rohingya

Asean must help Rohingya

Three years on from when the Rohingya, a Muslim minority population in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar, were forced to flee and seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh and Thailand, their plight remains delicate as ever, especially amid a pandemic that has only added complexities to an already multi-faceted problem.

Despite international pressure, Myanmar, together with Asean, has been unable to deliver a lasting resolution to a humanitarian crisis that rivals no other. The "boat people" -- as the Rohingya are referred to -- continue to live in squalid conditions in camps like Cox's Bazar where fears of Covid-19 have led to a rise in sexual and gender-related violence.

It is amid this backdrop that the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees met virtually yesterday with representatives from the US, UK, and EU to ensure that at least US$1 billion (31.2 billion baht) in aid reaches the Rohingya so that their basic needs are met. For Asean, which was left out of the guest list, the summit is a stern reminder that it must rise from its slumber and revisit its commitment to uphold basic human rights in all 10 member states.

Until date, the regional bloc -- which champions non-interference and a decision-making process based on consensus -- has failed to acknowledge violations by Aung San Suu Kyi's government and has only made faint references to the Rohingya situation.

At the last Asean summit in June, leaders focused almost exclusively on how member states could lead a unified pandemic response to counter historic contractions of their respective economies. With another Asean summit set to take place next month, the bloc has one last opportunity to address the key problems fuelling the crisis -- a denial of citizenship rights and discrimination against the Rohingya people who are to be left out in the cold in the Nov 8 elections.

At present, pressure against Myanmar's government at the international stage is mounting. A case of genocide was registered late last year by The Gambia at the International Court of Justice, which is also examining allegations that senior authorities in the country deported and persecuted the Rohingya by using force.

Despite this, Asean has stood firm in its stance that it trusts Myanmar's Commission of Inquiry to investigate rights violations, a probe that will have no oversight and surely be biased. While Asean claims it does not interfere in the internal affairs of member states, it has flexed its influence when the situation demands it such as in 2005 when Myanmar was forced to forfeit chairmanship in the face of rising human rights violation criticism and in 2008 when it was made to accept international aid in the aftermath of cyclone Nargis.

Upon accepting the responsibility of chairmanship for 2020, Vietnam promised that its top priority would be "to advance Asean's role in the maintenance of regional peace, security and stability". In that regard, it has severely failed to fulfil its duty. Given that the Covid-19 crisis was unforeseen, it is still no excuse for the collective inaction and lethargy displayed by the bloc and it must rectify this immediately before its credibility is damaged and its long-term survival is put at risk. With its inability to initiate dialogue and bring forth a peaceful end to the crisis in its own backyard, the grouping can hardly get rid of "talk shop" stigma.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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