External Affairs

ASEAN Summit Draft Statement Skips Over Rohingya Crisis

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi attends the opening session of the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines, November 13, 2017. Credit: Reuters

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi attends the opening session of the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines, November 13, 2017. Credit: Reuters

Manila: A draft of the statement to be issued after a Southeast Asian summit makes no mention of the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine state following a military crackdown that has been described by the United Nations as ethnic cleansing.

One paragraph of the communique, seen by Reuters on Monday, mentions the importance of humanitarian relief provided for victims of natural disasters in Vietnam and a recent urban battle with Islamist militants in the Philippines, as well as “affected communities” in northern Rakhine state.

The statement was drawn up by the Philippines, current chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – which includes Myanmar – whose leaders met for a plenary session in Manila on Monday.

The draft did not give any details of the situation in northern Rakhine state or use the term Rohingya for the persecuted Muslim minority, which Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has asked foreign leaders not to use.

The government in mostly-Buddhist Myanmar regards the Rohingya as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and does not recognise the term.

Well over 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh to find shelter in refugee camps after military clearance operations were launched in response to attacks by Rohingya militants on security posts on August 25.

The plight of the Rohingya has brought outrage from around the world and there have been calls for democracy champion Suu Kyi to be stripped of the Nobel peace prize she won in 1991 because she has not condemned the Myanmar military’s actions.

In September, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the situation in Rakhine was best described as ethnic cleansing.

Some members of ASEAN, particularly Muslim-majority Malaysia, have voiced concern. However, in keeping with ASEAN’s principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of one another, the issue appears to have been put aside at the summit.

Suu Kyi, who did not mention the crisis in a pre-summit speech after arriving in Manila on Sunday, criticised ASEAN’s principle of non-interference in 1999 when she was fighting for democracy in a country then ruled by a military junta.

“This policy of non-interference is just an excuse for not helping,” she wrote in an opinion column in the Thai daily the Nation at the time. “In this day and age, you cannot avoid interference in the matters of other countries.”