The coup d’état in Myanmar on 1 February 2021 have triggered hundreds of thousands of Myanmarese, including civil servants, teachers, bus drivers and bank clerks to protest against the junta. The protests have been the largest since the so-called Saffron Revolution in 2007, when thousands of monks rose up against the military regime.
Numerous countries have condemned the military takeover and subsequent crackdown. The US, UK and European Union have all responded with sanctions on military officials.
In April 2021, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders and Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing on agreed on five issues or five-point concensus, including ending violence and holding constructive talks.
Six months have gone by since the coup and despite the promise to end violence, there has not been much progress on this front. Since the coup, more than 700 people including children have been killed and more than 3,000 detained.
“Neither party to the conflict is able to mobilise a combined political and military force to overcome the other party. We need to move forward, and this may require a reevaluation of strategy, ” said Marzuki Darusman, the chair of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.
Marzuki was speaking as a panelist at the the 1st Regional Dialogue with the theme of Beyond the Five-Point Consensus: Looking at other options available to discuss the best possible ways to move forward, with a view to contribute towards restoring democracy in Myanmar.
The event was co-organised by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), thé Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP), the National Commission on Human Rights of Indonesia (KOMNAS HAM), Provedor for Human Rights and Justice (PDHJ) Timor-Leste, The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) Indonesia, AICHR Thailand and AICHR Malaysia.
Marzuki added it is more productive to explore possible solutions within the dynamics caused by the standoff between the two sides.
“We are all looking at the big game of seeking recognition from the international community. At the end of the day the recognised government must find ways of working with each other, there may be soul-searching process for both sides,” Marzuki said.
He was referring to the upcoming event in September when at the next UN General Assembly session both the National Unity Government (NUG) and the junta will submit rival petitions to the Credentials Committee, which will decide on which it considers Myanmar’s legitimate government.
In May 2021, the NUG was formed by a group of ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) politicians, activists, and representatives from several ethnic minority groups to oppose the military regime.
“We don’t know what is going to happen,” Marzuki said adding that the the parties involved may have to look at their prospects between now and September and to come out publicly on its readiness to engage with each other.
The proposed “show all cards” effort should be Myanmar-led, he opined.
Analysts say given the historical affiliation between the junta and Russia and China, recognizing the NUG by the international community at the September UN General Assembly would certainly earn ire of the two countries. The September decision will also have implications on ASEAN whose members are split on their position regarding the crisis.
On the issue of NUG’s recognition, Marzuki opined that ASEAN’s recognition of the shadow government is so much more important than the recognition or non- recognition by international community. “The junta is more concerned about how ASEAN looks at Myanmar than what anybody in New York or Geneva say. Forget about that, this is real politics, and therefore this is an area that NUG needs to play an effective role,” Marzuki said.
He suggested the NUG to have a blanket policy of designating envoys in ASEAN to replace envoys that have been there so far and thus pushing ASEAN to make a decision on which party to recognise. “This could be done almost immediately, it just needs a decision by the NUG, ” he added.
So far NUG has designated 10 new envoys to ASEAN to represent Myanmar. Marzuki suggested the national human rights commission of each ASEAN country to support the NUG efforts to persuade ASEAN members to recognise its legitimacy. “Little things can add up to a significant change in the way ASEAN looks at the NUG,” he added.
Several panelists also spoke at the regional event. They include Tom Andrews the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar who said the people in Myanmar desperately needed the support of the international community before it was too late. He recommended an Emergency Coalition of those who were willing to exert economic pressure on the military authorities and prevent them from accessing weapons.
Razia Sultana who is a Rohingya and human rights activist and the founder of the RW Welfare Society spoke about the atrocities and hardships faced by the Rohingya community, saying the NUG has pledged to support the cause of the Rohingya including at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where Myanmar is accused of committing genocide against the Rohingya. “This is a reversed position to the past NLD’s stand in the ICJ,” she said, adding that it was a positive development.
Razia urged neighbouring countries and ASEAN to increase maximum pressure on the junta by applying measures such as halting economic revenue, arms sales and development aid to Myanmar and supporting the ICJ case against Myanmar.
The issue of ASEAN non-interference tradition was highlighted as a stumbling block to the crisis. “The notion is a divisive concept. The demon of non-interference has to be exorcised from ASEAN. That is the way forward as we confront the 21st century challenges,” Marzuki said.
The implications of the pandemic which saw cases more than doubled every week in recent weeks were also discussed. A humanitarian corridor was recommended to bring all parties together to address the Covid challenges, an initiative similar to the mechanism that was used in bringing independent movements and government to collaborate during the aftermath of the 2004 Aceh tsunami.
Similar dialogues will be held in the coming months.