‘Congratulations’ to Asean

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Andrew Aeria writes a scathing letter to the Asean secretary general over the regional grouping’s perceived inaction in handling the cyclone disaster in Burma. He receives a prompt response from the Asean secretariat before sending off a damning rejoinder.

H.E. Mr. Surin Pitsuwan
Secretary-General
The Asean Secretariat
70A, Jalan Sisingamangaraja
Jakarta 12110
Indonesia

Dear Mr. Secretary-General

I am a Malaysian, an academic in a public university and a citizen of Asean.

I am writing to ‘congratulate’ you as Asean Secretary-General and the leaders of all Asean member countries for doing next to nothing about the human disaster unfolding in Burma in the aftermath of the devastating Cyclone Nargis in early May.

Truly, Asean is nothing more than a political talk-shop of authoritarian leaders who are more than happy to allow murderous generals in Burma to kill Burmese citizens and despoil the country for their own personal benefit.

And what does Asean do apart from standing by the wayside and watching Burmese citizens die? The unelected and unconscionable Burmese Generals spit at Asean and show Asean their middle-finger in the face of this human disaster and what do you and Asean do? You just sit idle, spout meaningless platitudes about wanting to help the victims but do nothing while the people of Burma suffer and die.

All you smartly-dressed diplomats and national leaders have the blood of poor Burmese drenched over your bodies. Your Asean Human Rights Charter and the ink of all the signatories is not worth the cheap paper it is written on.

You and your shameless Asean shame all self-respecting Southeast Asian citizens. You shame me as a citizen of Southeast Asia. I resent this.

Yours disgustedly,

Dr. Andrew Aeria

Response from the Asean secretariat:

Good Afternoon Andrew,

Perhaps you have not been reading newspapers more carefully. Actually quite a few things/actions have been unfolding.

Visit our homepage at www.asean.org

Of course, what can be done is far from ideal; but I just want to assure you that many things have been done.

Termsak

And a rejoinder from Andrew:

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Dear Termsak

Actually, your statement that I have perhaps not been reading the newspapers closely made me laugh out loud. Is this dismal response the best you and Asean can do when engaging public-spirited academics?

Mr. Termsak, the fact is that if you read the news closely, you would realise that the news is devoid of any initiative (let alone a substantive one) by Asean or its member countries to assist the Burmese people in a way that alleviates their suffering. This, as far as I can tell, speaks volumes about the ineffectualness of Asean and its leaders.

Please allow me to dissect Asean’s media statements in your website to reinforce my view of ASEAN’s ineffectualness as per my original post:

1. Cyclone Nargis hit Burma on 2 May. Asean’s first press statement was on 5 May, a full three days after the disaster happened. On 3 May already, it was clear to all (and especially Burmese expatriates and refugees) with phone and e-mail connections to Rangoon that there was a natural disaster unfolding made worse by the sadistic paranoia of the Burmese military junta. Pray tell, why did it take Asean a full three (3) days to even issue a statement on the disaster? Is this because you and the Asean Sec-Gen had to get a confirmation of the disaster from those murderous and lying generals that your organisation recognises? Does ASEAN have to await for instructions from those generals before you act?

2. In your press statement of 5 May, Asean urged member states to support the international emergency relief efforts to assist the cyclone victims. Of what use this statement when the reality – and you and the Sec-Gen know this well – was that the sadistic Burmese junta generals were more interested in their fraudulent constitutional referendum no matter what the cost in human lives and that they were also completely against international humanitarian assistance which they construed as foreign interference of their domestic affairs? Would it not have been better for Asean to put unlimited pressure on the military junta to open up their borders to the international relief efforts instead? In any case, pray tell, what have the ASEAN member country leaders done so far that is significant in terms of emergency relief?

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3. On 13 May, 11 days after the cyclone hit Burma, Asean announced the formation of an Emergency Rapid Assessment Team (ERAT) for Burma. Excuse me but it took Asean a full 11 days before it was able to mobilise a team to just go in and assess the situation? Is Asean insane or what? The cyclone victims had been suffering and dying for over a week and Asean only announced an ERAT after 11 days? What on earth was the Asean Sec-Gen and Asean member countries doing for the 11 days before Asean’s grand announcement of ERAT? Um, by the way, has the ERAT hit the ground running in Burma already or is the team still stuck somewhere in some 5-star hotel in an Asean capital awaiting Burmese Visas issued by paranoid murderers?

4. On 13 May, Asean announced that the Asean Sec-Gen is to meet the World Bank Chief on 15 May to “discuss long-term cooperation in development and poverty alleviation to bridge the gap between old and new members of Asean”. In other words, more discussion at high levels while the ordinary people of Burma continue to suffer and die. Grief..!!!

Mr. Termsak, any honest person with merely half a brain would conclude that all ASEAN has done since Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar on 2 May is talk and discuss and issue press statements. In other words, Asean the organisation and the Asean Sec-Gen have done little that is substantive to help ordinary Burmese. Or put differently, I re-state with renewed emphasis as per my original post to you that Asean the organisation, Asean member countries and your Sec-Gen have done “next to nothing” about the human disaster in Burma. As well, I re-iterate my view that this current attitude and outlook of Asean towards the Cyclone Nargis disaster in Burma shames all self-respecting citizens of the region.

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But I am sure this view of mine is not going to faze you or the Asean Sec-Gen, Mr. Pitsuwan since Asean and its diplomats like you are not dependent on the likes of ordinary citizen tax-payers like me for your jobs or your cushy livelihoods. Which also explains why Mr. Pitsuwan and all other Asean leaders and diplomats and staffers like you are more at home at sipping cocktails at diplomatic functions graced by sadistic and murderous Burmese generals. Quite an indictment of the quality of friends and friendships Asean keeps.

And you want to assure me that ‘many things have been done” by Asean in the current situation? Thankfully, I – and millions of other Asean citizens – have more brains than you think to believe you or to even trust Asean the organisation and all Asean leaders.

Still disgusted and offended,
Andrew

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