KUALA LUMPUR, Wed: The forum entitled “The Role of ASEAN in the
Myanmar Impasse: Conflict Confrontation or Compromise?” was held in the
morning session on the third day of the 14th Malaysian Law Conference.
After the chair person’s brief historical account on the country of Myanmar (which was known as Burma when it gained independence in 1948 but was named Myanmar after the military regime, seized powers in 1962), the first speaker, Mr Andrew Khoo, a human right lawyer, started the session by speaking on the role of ASEAN in Myanmar where the people are suffering from the Junta’s military rule.
Mr Khoo recognised the difficult and delicate task of the ASEAN in terms of adherence to the principle of non interference with internal affairs of one another on the one hand and the ASEAN’s objective of promoting regional peace and stability on the other hand. However he was of the view that the SEAN countries’ reluctance to protest to the Junta’s defiance of democracy was often prompted by self interests. He was pessimistic of the effectiveness of the ASEAN in Myanmar as the member states themselves did not show commitment with regard to human rights in their own countries, let alone that of Myanmar. Furthermore, the ASEAN Charter clearly stated there are no sanctions for non-compliance [with the Charter]. Such position taken by the ASEAN clearly undermined its effectiveness.
The next speaker, Miss Debbie Stothard, the coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma sent a strong message to the audience: ASEAN had failed while it should have acted.
To her, Myanmar was not a problem in ASEAN but ASEAN was the problem. The ASEAN lacked the political will to transform within itself to take tough action against the military regime in Myanmar. She criticised the ASEAN for not willing to pursue a durable solution with regard to Myanmar.
According to Miss Debbie, the ASEAN was able to bring the regime down in a short period if it had the will to do so. The regime was now in a vulnerable position as it never had before since it heavily depended on the member countries on oil and gas, trade dealings and financial services. Furthermore the regime had been overspending and had to rely on money that would flow in from other ASEAN counties through those dealings. If sanction is imposed it would cripple the regime or at the least to bring it to the dialogue table.
On the possible harm to the Myanmar people if sanctions ware imposed. She rightly said that it was the regime that would be hurt the most. The Myanmar people who had been living in extreme poverty had nothing to be hurt by sanctions. Thus the fear was unfounded. Furthermore, the regime had it own crisis within its military as there was dissatisfaction among the soldiers who were upset for being forced to kill the monks. The ASEAN could act and had to act. “A carrot without a stick is not going to be effective”, she candidly said.
She ended her speech by showing a video clip of the luxurious wedding of the Junta’s daughter, which showed a stark contrast to the poverty in which the people in Myanmar lived.
The third speaker, Mr Paul Lian, the Coordinator of the Chin Refugee Committee shared with the audience his personal experience in Malaysia as a refugee. Mr Lian, a Chin (a tribe in Burma), came to Malaysia as a refugee and suffered extreme hardships and difficulties. He spoke from his own experience the appalling condition the Burmese refugees in Malaysia had to live in and their vulnerability to government’s raids and deportation.
The speeches by the speakers are truly thought provoking. Being a member country of ASEAN, we can help but to ask: Has the ASEAN lived up to its aim, i.e. to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries in the region? The answer is clear to every participant at the forum.