Asean urged to step up its Rakhine response

Lawmakers in the region have warned that human trafficking, insecurity, and the movement of persons seeking safety in neighbouring countries will rise

Graphic: BBC

In conjunction with the recent Asean foreign ministers’ retreat, Southeast Asian parliamentarians have urged the ministers to step up the bloc’s actions on the deteriorating situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The meeting set the priority items for Asean’s discussions this year.

“Despite the deterioration of the situation in Rakhine over the past few years, Asean keeps responding time and again with the same rhetoric and approach. Now it is pushing the return of the Rohingya refugees to a place that is completely unsafe. It’s time to take stock of what little progress Asean has achieved so far in resolving this crisis, and of Myanmar’s clear disregard for its calls,” Charles Santiago, a Malaysian MP and chair of the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), said.

Nearly four years since the Myanmar military committed atrocities in Rakhine state, the 600,000 Rohingya living there are still denied citizenship rights, freedom of movement and basic rights. Rakhine state has also been the scene of intense fighting and a growing number of deaths and injuries amid intensifying fighting between the military and the Arakan army over the past year, although a fragile informal ceasefire has held since November.

Meanwhile, Asean continues to support discussions and initiatives on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar without consideration for their safety or addressing the severe restrictions they face in Rakhine. So far, it has acknowledged the humanitarian needs, but refused to recognise the situation as a protracted human rights crisis.

“If Asean does not start addressing the serious human rights concerns in Rakhine, its interventions will do more harm than good,” Santiago added.

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Lawmakers in the region warn that human trafficking, insecurity, and the movement of persons seeking safety in neighbouring countries will increase if Asean does not shift its policy to a holistic, human rights-based approach.

They urged the ministers to allow the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights to be mandated to address the human rights concerns in Rakhine and recommended that any further plans by Asean, especially the comprehensive needs assessment on the repatriation of refugees, be developed with the meaningful consultation and participation of the Rohingya community and its representatives.

“It is high time that Asean takes a more effective approach to truly creating positive and sustainable change in Rakhine and the region as a whole. This can only be achieved if Asean shifts its approach, strengthens its language, assesses all aspects of the crisis, and is inclusive of the Rohingya in its decisions,” Mercy Barends, an Indonesian parliamentarian and APHR board member, said. – APHR

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