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The Affection of Myanmar Military on Asean's Decisions About the Rohingya Crisis

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To begin, we must ask ourselves a particular question. How did the disputes of a certain minority group become such a huge of a problem that bewildered many global organizations such as the ASEAN? To find the right answers we are desperately longing for, we must briefly discover on who are the Rohingya? The Rohingya is a minority group, the majority of whom are Muslims. They have long resided in a particular area in Myanmar called the Rakhine state from many centuries ago. They claim to be descendants of Persian and Arab traders which are mainly found to be Muslim. Alongside the tension that has built between the Rohingya and the Buddhists for years, the Rohingya people also have to endure the systematic discrimination and rejection of citizenship that has been thrown at them countless of times. Their hard times have earned them the title of being the world’s most persecuted group.

The pressure and discrimination they face also has earned them conflicts with the Myanmar government. It particularly started on the year of 1948 following the independence of Myanmar when the newly formed government denied the Rohingya people citizenship. The Rohingya also fought the government from 1947 to 1961 for control of territory of Rakhine State. Most recently was the attacks of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in the morning of August 25 2017. They planned attacks on mostly the police and government posts which left 71 dead. Because of the mistreatments that has been done by the Myanmar government, criticism has been thrown at them for doing too little to protect the Rohingya population and defend human rights policies.

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On the other hand, the Myanmar military has also done significance damage to the Rohingya community. Such as of August 2017 when a certain violent military campaign pushed 700,000 people of the ethnic group into the borders of Bangladesh. Many of those people also recounted times of rape and murder which heavily affected them. According to many reports, the army also conducted murder to the Rohingya and burned their homes in response to the August 25 attacks. The particular actions that they had done has also been commented by a United Nations human rights chief as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Although Myanmar is a democratic country since 1948, a sudden coup d’état led by General Ne Win happened in the year of 1962. That particular coup d’état signifies the political dominance that the military has over Myanmar. Many protests happened that had outcomes of violence; such as the protests in Rangoon University that happened on 7 July 1963. It resulted in 15 lives of students lost. New regulations also forced citizens into constructing black markets which helped fulfill their household needs.

Many people in Myanmar also had lost their savings because of a decree that made 50 and 100 kyat illegal. The drastic changes of Myanmar’s economy evolved into a military protest conducted by 100 factories across the country which happened on 6 July 1974. But, the protest had quickly resulted in the deaths of 100 factory workers. Although this coup d’état lasted until 2011, the Burmese military still can be seen withholding power with 25% of seats in the parliament. Aaron Connelly, a research fellow in the East Asia Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney has said “Under the Constitution the commander-in-chief (of Myanmar’s Armed Forces) is his own boss, he doesn’t report to Aung San Suu Kyi. He can’t be fired,”. What Mr. Connelly said reveals that even sometimes the military has more power than the central Myanmar government. Seeing how the Burmese army heavily influences the Myanmar government with its power, it should absolutely make sense that ASEAN’s decisions in dealing with the Rohingya crisis can be affected.

To build up this argument, we must first answer this question: What is ASEAN? The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a collective organization made in 1967 by its 10 Southeast Asian members being Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Brunei, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Being made in the harsh atmosphere of the Cold War, they ultimately reach for a goal of promoting economic growth, peace, stability, collaboration, and regional stability in the Southeast Asian region. In order to reach their target, they have signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, signed The Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ), negotiated a free trade agreement among its region members and others countries such as China, and many more. Additionally, they collectively try to reach a goal by following their aims, purposes, and fundamental principles. To further explore the pressure of the Myanmar military that can be found upon ASEAN, let us see the result of meetings that ASEAN has conducted in effort to alleviate the chaos in the Rohingya crisis.

Last year’s ASEAN Summit ended on November 15 in a positive note which forged cooperation and development in various matters such as the South China Sea dispute and North Korea threats. However, it was noted that the summit could not present concrete and final resolutions in the matter of the Rohingya crisis. In an additional note, the meeting avoided any solutions that would call out Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to take their responsibility and roles in resolving the crisis they created. Much to everyone’s disappointment, the ASEAN state members could not even come up with a resolution or proposal that will help stop the massacre being committed by the Myanmar military to the Rohingya people. Another summit that is used to address and discuss the Rohingya issue is the ASEAN-Australia Summit which happened last year. This particular summit is no different with other ASEAN meetings because of the inability to produce any specific proposal regarding the matter of the Rohingya. According to drafts produced in the summit, there was no noteworthy mention of the Rohingya issue despite its “strongest condemnation against all forms of terrorism”.

Looking way more closely to each ASEAN member, Thailand has decided to not use a strong tone on discussing the Rakhine situation because of choosing to prioritize and maintain friendly bonds with the Burmese army. The unbearing silence found in this certain summit has reached to a point when Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had to urge ASEAN leaders to “take their obligations under international law seriously and respect the human rights of refugee”. While ASEAN countries stay quiet in this Rohingya conflict, they turn to reasons such as their fundamental principle of “non-interference in the internal affairs of each other” as to why they won’t further negotiate the Rohingya crisis. This fundamental principle is very important in this situation because it means that this particular crisis is only a Myanmar affair and not a regional crisis. Their particular policy quickly gets slammed by many commentators including The Nation, 1999 which said that when ASEAN invokes the principle of non-interference, it does so “not with a clear conscience.” If we dive more in depth into ASEAN’s fundamental principles, we can see that in this situation, the fundamental principle of cooperating effectively contradicts with ASEAN’s non interference principle. ASEAN not interfering with the Rohingya crisis actually stops them from cooperating effectively to reach a consensus which makes it rather ineffective.

To close up this essay, we can finally see how ill prepared ASEAN in dealing with the Rohingya crisis and the pressure and cruelty thrown by the Myanmar military. From meetings of the ASEAN Summit and the ASEAN-Australia Summit, we see that the Myanmar military does hinder the participation of Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi in cooperating fully in ASEAN Summits. In ASEAN meetings, they cannot reach a specific consensus and proposal in helping the Rohingya refugees. The ASEAN fundamental principles of cooperating effectively and non interference contradicts in this situation which can make ASEAN meetings ineffective. What ASEAN forgets is that addressing this chaotic situation would not weaken its fundamental principles, but it would strengthen the core values and purposes of ASEAN itself. All we can hope now is for the ASEAN to gather themselves to reach peace and stability for the Rohingya people.

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