Leaked ASEAN document reveals proposal to appease Myanmar junta, “maintain status quo”

(BANGKOK, November 10, 2022)—The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should reject a proposal, revealed today in a leaked document, to maintain the Myanmar junta’s full participation in all ASEAN meetings apart from summits and foreign minister’s meetings, Fortify Rights said today. ASEAN foreign ministers will consider the document today and decide on the recommendations to present to ASEAN leaders at their annual summit that begins on Friday in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

ASEAN leaders need to get real—the junta is the cause of the crisis in Myanmar, not the solution,” said Patrick Phongsathorn, Human Rights Advocacy Specialist at Fortify Rights. “Efforts like this to appease the junta will only prolong its commission of international crimes, the suffering of the Myanmar people, and the negative impacts of this crisis on the wider region. The junta poses a threat to international peace and security and should be treated as such.

Fortify Rights received the leaked internal ASEAN document from a well-placed source close to negotiations between ASEAN member states on the Myanmar crisis. The office of the ASEAN chair—Cambodia—reportedly prepared the undated document following an emergency meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Jakarta, Indonesia on October 27, 2022. The document includes 11 numbered points, including equivocal assessments of the situation in Myanmar (e.g., “growing violence from all armed groups is a major concern”) as well as general directives and recommendations for ways forward. It makes no mention of the junta’s ongoing coup d’état, it’s more than 12,000 political prisoners, or the junta’s well-documented nationwide attack on the civilian population.

Myanmar coup-leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing will not attend the ASEAN Summit. ASEAN has agreed to exclude representatives of the Myanmar junta from ASEAN Summits and foreign minister’s meetings, accepting only “non-political” representatives from Myanmar. The leaked document obtained by Fortify Rights acknowledges, at point four, that this policy will remain; however, the document clarifies that “other ministerial meetings shall maintain the status quo,” meaning that junta representatives will be welcomed at those meetings.

Point two in the document clarifies that ASEAN’s “Five-Point Consensus shall be retained” and that the ASEAN Secretariat will be tasked “to draft the implementation plan.”

Point eight in the document, which may have been proposed by a single foreign minister, refers to a “strategic reverse implementation approach,” which is defined in the document as ASEAN “try[ing] to find converging points between the two separate parallel tracks of the 5-Point Consensus and 5-Point Roadmap.”

The Myanmar junta proposed the Five Point Road Map in August 2021 as a rival plan to ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus, which the junta itself had agreed to three months earlier, on April 24, 2021, in Jakarta, Indonesia. The ASEAN Five-Point Consensus calls for end to violence, constructive dialogue among all parties, the appointment of an ASEAN Special Envoy to facilitate dialogue, humanitarian aid, and a visit to Myanmar by the Special Envoy. Following its adoption, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing almost immediately flouted the agreement, which is widely viewed as an abject failure.

The junta’s Five Point Road Map has as one of its objectives “free and fair multiparty democratic elections” following the lifting of the junta-imposed state of emergency.

Since the military putsch of February 2021, the Myanmar junta has sought to systematically annihilate all opposition to its rule. In the first six months after the coup, Fortify Rights and the Schell Center at Yale Law School documented crimes against humanity perpetrated by the military and police in Myanmar, including murder, imprisonment, torture, persecution, and enforced disappearances. In a concerted effort to solidify its rule, the junta has systematically arrested more than 16,000 people since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), with more than 12,000 remaining behind bars at the time of writing. Political prisoners include opinion leaders, members of civil society, key political figures, health workers, and civil servants formerly involved in the administration of elections. Fortify Rights and the Schell Center documented the imprisonment of Union Election Commissioners, journalists, and civil society leaders, and the imprisonment and enforced disappearance of National League for Democracy (NLD) officials.

According to media reports, as of July 2022, the junta killed almost 50 NLD members, including at least three members of parliament, and arrested nearly 900 members of the party since the coup. On July 25, ending a decades-long moratorium on the use of the death penalty, the Myanmar military junta executed four political prisoners, including NLD lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw and veteran democracy activist U Kyaw Min Yu, popularly known as Ko Jimmy.

The U.N. reports that more than 1.1 million people are displaced in Myanmar and more than 30,000 civilian properties have been razed since the coup on February 1, 2021.

The junta’s plans to conduct elections next year are a complete farce and should be treated as such by the entire international community,” Patrick Phongsathorn said. “ASEAN leaders must reject any plans to continue to appease the junta, which is committing a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population of Myanmar.

In another sign of discord within ASEAN, the original two-page Chair’s Statement that resulted from the emergency foreign ministers meeting on October 27, 2022 has subsequently been removed from the ASEAN website and replaced with a much shorter, three-paragraph text. The revised statement no longer makes reference to “concrete, practical and time-bound actions” to strengthen implementation of the Five Point Consensus, as was noted in the original Chair’s Statement, and fails to provide details on other key issues such as the delivery of humanitarian aid.

In line with its apparent policy of appeasement, on November 4, ASEAN appointed the Myanmar junta as chair of the ASEAN Air Chiefs Conference, as revealed in the junta-run Global New Light of Myanmar and reported by the organization Justice for Myanmar, despite the fact that the junta’s air force is responsible for ongoing airstrikes against civilian populations. The Air Chiefs Conference involves coordination between air forces within the region.

ASEAN should suspend the Myanmar junta’s participation in meetings throughout the entire ASEAN system, scrap the failed five-point consensus, and enact emergency measures to protect the country’s civilian population, said Fortify Rights today.

Such emergency measures should include an agreement on protecting Myanmar refugees, authorizing cross-border humanitarian aid, and coordinating with other U.N. member states to deprive the Myanmar military junta of weapons, dual-use technology, aviation fuel, revenue, and political recognition. ASEAN must now publicly engage the National Unity Government—Myanmar’s legitimate representative on the international stage.

The Myanmar junta has undermined ASEAN’s efforts at every stage of this crisis,” said Patrick Phongsathorn. “The Myanmar people can’t wait any longer. ASEAN needs to take concrete emergency action now.

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