Southeast Asian Politicians: ASEAN Must Sanction Myanmar if Military Doesn’t Budge

Ronna Nirmala
Southeast Asian Politicians: ASEAN Must Sanction Myanmar if Military Doesn’t Budge Myanmar protesters carry a man who was shot by security forces during a crackdown on demonstrations against the military coup in Yangon, March 17, 2021.

Six prominent Southeast Asian politicians on Wednesday urged the region’s nations to impose sanctions on Myanmar if the military government there doesn’t free political prisoners, restore the elected government it toppled in a coup last month and prosecute those responsible for killing civilian protesters.

In a strongly worded statement, the politicians criticized the “impotence”  of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) and demanded the bloc discard its non-interference principle, because, they believed, it was an obstacle to ensuring democracy and protecting people’s rights in the region.

All “ASEAN governments must unite and send an unequivocal message to the Myanmar military junta to immediately free all political prisoners, to restore the political situation in Myanmar to that prior to the 1st February 2021 coup and to respect the people’s votes in the November 2020 general election,” the politicians’ statement said.

They also demanded that all those responsible “for the killing of innocent people” in Myanmar – an ASEAN member – be brought to justice.

“Failing which, all other ASEAN governments must unite and suspend Myanmar’s membership of ASEAN and thereafter impose targeted trade and economic sanctions against the military junta and their associates,” the statement said.

The signatories to the statement were Sam Rainsy, an exiled Cambodian opposition leader, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Indonesian lawmaker Fadli Zon, Philippine Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, former Singapore Deputy Speaker Charles Chong, and former Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya.

Their comments came a little over two weeks after an ASEAN special meeting of foreign ministers failed to reach a consensus on demanding the immediate release of Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others detained by the military.

Instead, ASEAN merely called for a halt to the violence in Myanmar and urged dialogue to end the crisis.

The region’s prominent politicians indicated that ASEAN’s response had been weak.

“The events in Myanmar display, yet again, the impotence of ASEAN governments in dealing with a regional crisis,” said Rainsy, who read out the statement at a virtual news conference.

“We, the undersigned demand our respective ASEAN governments abandon the old doctrine of non-interference and pursue a new approach of constructive and critical engagement, with the option of imposing trade and economic sanctions on the Myanmar military junta,” the politicians’ statement said.

The non-interference doctrine “has become a major hindrance and stumbling block to the development of participatory democracies and the protection of the basic rights of the peoples of ASEAN.”

The politicians criticized what they see as ASEAN's inaction while the Myanmar military and police turned their guns on citizens protesting the coup.

“While the brave pro-democracy protestors of Myanmar are being killed by the military junta, all other ASEAN governments are demonstrating a lack of political will and unity to pressure the military junta to end the killings,” the statement said.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said at least 149 people had been killed during anti-coup protests “as a result of unlawful use of lethal force.”

Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews, reported that the death toll was higher, at 181.

Meanwhile, protests continued in Myanmar on Wednesday, with pro-democracy activists fighting back by firing slingshots and tossing Molotov cocktails at security forces, the Associated Press reported.

At least two more people were shot dead Wednesday, the agency reported.

Since the Feb. 1 coup, as many as 2,191 people had been arrested, charged or sentenced, while 1,872 were detained and faced trial, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said on its website on Wednesday.

‘Don’t trust the junta’        

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah declined to comment on the observations of Southeast Asia's politicians, but said Jakarta would be issuing a new statement on Myanmar.

The largest country in ASEAN and one of the bloc’s founding members, Indonesia has been on a diplomatic push to get members involved in addressing the coup in Myanmar.

In her last statement on the day of the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi had said that while ASEAN members must adhere to the bloc’s founding principle of non-interference, they have a duty to respect its values for democracy and human rights.

At the time, Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein proposed that ASEAN form a group of “eminent persons or experts in electoral matters to help bridge the discrepancies found in the last general elections” in Myanmar.

The Myanmar military had said the Nov. 8, 2020, general election was tainted by fraud, and used that reason to justify the coup, saying it would hold new elections.

But Rainsy, the Cambodian opposition leader, on Wednesday voiced doubts about the junta’s promises. 

“The democratic transition must be based on the results of the elections in November 2020. We can’t trust the junta with their promise to organize another election next year,” he said.

“By that time, they will have dissolved the National League for Democracy [Suu Kyi’s party] and the election will be meaningless.”

Kasit, the former foreign minister of Thailand, warned that ASEAN risked undermining its international standing if it failed to find a solution to the Myanmar crisis.

And Fadli, the Indonesian legislator, said ASEAN must have a common stance on the issues of human rights and democracy in Myanmar.

“The most important thing is a political will to urge the military to comply with these principles,” he said.


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