Rohingya crisis a test for ASEAN’s unity

Rohingya crisis a test for ASEAN's unity 

Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi surrounded by security and attendees as she leaves after her keynote speech at the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit on the sidelines of the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and related meetings in Singapore, Nov. 12, 2018. EPA-EFE/HOW HWEE YOUNG

Bangkok Desk, Nov. 12 (efe-epa).- The Myanmar army’s operation against the Rohingya ethnic minority, described by the UN as genocide, divides the countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and tests the unity of the group.

The governments of Malaysia and Indonesia have strongly denounced the failure of Myanmar’s government to investigate alleged crimes perpetrated by the military and Buddhist extremists against the Rohingya population.

However, Myanmar, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has used as a shield the regional principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs, a policy which has also been criticized as a “blockade” by human rights organizations.

“I believe in non-interference in the internal affairs of nations. But does the world watch massacres being carried out and do nothing?” asked Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during the recent United Nations General Assembly.

The leaders of ASEAN’s 10 countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines – will meet on Tuesday in Singapore for a three-day summit where the Rohingya humanitarian crisis will hang over talks.

At least 10,000 people died and 725,000 Rohingyas sought refuge in Bangladesh during a military crackdown in Rakhine state in western Myanmar that began on Aug. 25 last year in response to insurgent attacks, according to a report of the UN investigative mission.

Both the Myanmar army and the government deny systematic abuses by their forces, who are accused of rape, looting, burning villages and murder, among other crimes.

“More than half the population of ASEAN countries is Muslim, while the next group is Buddhist. The different positions among countries regarding the Rohingya crisis can create insurmountable gaps within the association,” said Kobsak Chutikul, former Thai diplomat and member of the advisory panel formed by Suu Kyi to analyze the crisis.

In November last year, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees, which is expected to begin on Thursday with the return of some 2,260 people to Myanmar.

The UN and human rights groups have criticized the repatriation plans for their lack of security guarantees and conditions of racial segregation under which the Rohingyas live in Rakhine.

“It is crucial that ASEAN as an entity pressurizes the Myanmar government to resolve the root of the crisis, which includes ending all discrimination against the Rohingyas,” Malaysian member of parliament Charles Santiago told EFE.

“ASEAN must ensure that the repatriation process only begins when guarantees of security and human rights are given to the Rohingyas,” added Santiago, who is also director of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.