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Opinion – Myanmar, ASEAN and the Responsibility to Protect

15 259 13

In the four months since General Min Aung Hlaing launched his military coup, Myanmar has become ungovernable. Since 1 February over 780 people have been killed by the security forces and almost 5,000 have been detained. Several prominent pro-democracy activists have been tortured to death and the country’s elected leaders remain in hiding or under arrest. The economy has flatlined, with nervous investors abandoning Myanmar and strikes crippling the public sector. The army, or Tatmadaw, has reignited its conflict with several ethnic armed groups and used airstrikes against civilian populations in outlying provinces. A number of senior diplomats have defected, including Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun who gave the three-finger salute of the civil disobedience movement on the floor of the UN General Assembly. Targeted sanctions have been imposed by some foreign countries and the World Bank has suspended lending. And despite weeks of deadly repression, fresh protests still break out every day in urban neighborhoods, towns and villages across the country.

Given the chaos the coup has caused, the high-level summit convened by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta on 24 April provided a unique opportunity for regional leadership. For the junta, the summit was supposed to mark General Min Aung Hlaing’s first official engagement as the new ruler of Myanmar. Instead, his hosts described him only as the country’s military chief, a subtle indignity he did not appreciate. Nor did he apparently enjoy the diplomatic chiding he got from the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, who respectfully beseeched him to stop murdering his people. He might have got ASEAN to delete the section of their joint statement that called for the release of detainees, but the General did not return to Naypyidaw with the acceptance he craves.

On the other hand, the summit was also an abject failure for ASEAN. The leaders of the region produced a “five-point consensus” plan to stop the killing and restore civilian rule, but it was unceremoniously rejected by the junta who said they could not agree to its implementation until “the situation returns to stability in the country.” Underlining their disdain for ASEAN’s entreaties, eight people were shot dead by the security forces the day after the summit.

However, stability cannot be created by decree and Myanmar is no longer the country it was before 1 February. But nor is it the country it was before the beginning of the transition to civilian-led government in 2011. The last decade has unleashed tremendous economic, social and political changes. This rising generation have experienced more freedom than their parents and for the first time in history, they are digitally connected with the rest of the world. The ubiquitous three-finger salute of the protesters is just one reflection that young people in Myanmar today not only identify with global culture but have also been inspired by their peers in Hong Kong, Thailand and elsewhere.

As “Gen Z” continue to lead the resistance to military rule, they are calling on the international community to not just condemn what is happening in their country, but to act. For example, on 5 March, as the UN Security Council was meeting in its solemn chamber in New York, people across Myanmar held protest........

© E-International

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