By Hafiz Hassan

ON December 4, 2016 approximately 10,000 gathered at Stadium Mini Titiwangsa in Kuala Lumpur to protest Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya. Entitled “Solidariti Ummah Rohingya”, the rally was attended by then Prime Minister Najib Razak, his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and PAS Youth chief Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Aziz who shared the same stage.

A day earlier, the Myanmar government had said Najib’s presence at the rally would be a violation of ASEAN’s non-interference policy, warning Malaysia to stay out of its affairs. Wisma Putra rebutted the Myanmar government by saying that the issue affected the security of the region.

Najib himself said that the Myanmar government could not cite ASEAN’s non-interference policy while ignoring other ASEAN charters on human rights.

Najib was right that the 2003 Declaration of ASEAN Concord II and the 2008 ASEAN Charter have incorporated democracy and human rights as principles that ASEAN should support. But the non-interference has been a cardinal principle in ASEAN since its founding in 1967. The principle has remained embedded in its institutions even after the ground-breaking 2003 Declaration and 2008 Charter leading to the establishment of ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in 2009.

It is the so-called ASEAN Way: non-interference, accommodation and consensus-building. According to Sanae Suzuki, a Research Fellow at the Area Studies Centre, Institute of Developing Economies (IDE), Japan, ASEAN is non-intrusive because its member states share an understanding that domestic issues should be managed domestically since they have sufficient state strength to do so. This state strength enables member states to retain their sovereign right to solve their own domestic issues without relying on – or being compelled to rely on – ASEAN for this purpose.

On the Rohingya issue, while the international community views it as “a collection of serious human rights violations”, ASEAN as a collectivity has carefully avoided treating it as such. But the organization has not prevented its member states to voice their concerns. Suzuki alluded to AICHR meetings between 2016 and 2018 where Malaysia – and Indonesia – continued to allege that the Myanmar government had committed human rights violations.

Yet ASEAN’s non-interference policy remains unbreached.

Now, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) is a regional network of current and former parliamentarians. Its members use their mandate to advocate for human rights inside and outside of parliament, regionally and globally. They work closely with civil society, conduct fact-finding missions, and publish recommendations and opinions on the most important issues affecting the region.

APHR was born out of the recognition that human rights issues in Southeast Asia are interconnected, and from the desire of progressive legislators to work together across borders to promote and protect human rights.

APHR is not an ASEAN institution, unlike the AICHR, for example, despite the word “ASEAN” in its name. In the past week, APHR has not only expressed concern over Malaysia’s state of emergency, urging the King, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Prime Minister to convene parliament as soon as possible. It has also issued a statement expressing solidarity with the elected representatives of Myanmar’s Parliament, and called on the military to respect democracy, allowing parliament to resume, and for MPs to be allowed to fulfil their mandate without impediment.

In the statement, APHR has urged the international community as a whole, and ASEAN in particular, to establish a comprehensive response to ensure that the Myanmar military:

· Abides by the democratic will of the people of Myanmar and the rule of law;
· Immediately and unconditionally releases all those currently arbitrarily detained;
· Allows Parliament to resume and elected MPs to fulfil their mandate without impediment;
· Immediately restores unrestricted access to the Internet and all forms of communications; and
· Refrains from using any forms of violence against peaceful critics and respects the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Interference with domestic affairs? It’s a matter of opinion. Let’s just agree to disagree.

Hafiz Hassan reads BebasNews


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