South Asia

How ASEAN's Failed 'Five-Point Consensus' Has Let Down the People of Myanmar

Despite agreeing to the Consensus last April, the ruling junta has failed to abide by any of the provisions laid out and has continued its brutal crackdown on resistance unabated.

Listen to this article:

A year on, the Myanmar junta has shown no willingness to implement or cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s peace plan for Myanmar, known as the Five-Point Consensus, despite agreeing to it at a meeting with the leaders of the regional grouping’s member states.

Far from honouring the agreement made in April last year, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing and his associates have ramped up a brutal nationwide crackdown to suppress widespread public opposition to its rule.

The five steps the regime agreed to with the ASEAN leaders are: an immediate end to violence in the country; dialogue among all parties concerned; the appointment of a special envoy; provision of humanitarian assistance by ASEAN; and a visit by the bloc’s special envoy to Myanmar to meet with all parties.

Here is a brief summary of how the junta has disregarded its commitments to ASEAN over the past 12 months and how the plan has failed to make any progress.

Sharp rise in violence against civilians

Rather than immediately ceasing violence as called for, the junta has continued to commit atrocities across the country with further killings, bombings, mass arbitrary arrests and ongoing violence.

The number of innocent civilians killed by the junta rose to over 1,800 this month. More than 1,075 of those killings occurred after the consensus agreement was issued.

Those killed include more than 130 children, old people, youths, peaceful protesters, politicians, medics and activists.

Also read: Myanmar Army Engaged in Torture, Mass Killings, War Crimes: UN Report

More than 13,000 people have been detained by the junta, which in recent months has increasingly resorted to taking family members and relatives of wanted activists hostage, in order to blackmail them into turning themselves in.

A slogan is written on a street as a protest after the coup in Yangon, Myanmar February 21, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Stringer/File Photo

Further violating the call to exercise restraint, the junta has continued its indiscriminate bombing campaign and burned civilian houses in resistance strongholds, including ethnic minority areas, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee, and killing civilians, including children.

According to independent research group Data for Myanmar, more than 11,000 civilian houses were burned down by junta forces from May last year to April this year.

In December, the Irrawaddy recorded some of the regime’s worst attacks against the people of Myanmar.

Call for dialogue with all parties rejected

The junta has also rejected ASEAN’s call for constructive dialogue among all parties concerned in order to seek a peaceful solution.

On the contrary, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing has ruled out negotiations with regime opponents.

In a speech on Armed Forces Day in March, he vowed to annihilate all opposition to his rule. The regime has declared major resistance groups including the parallel National Unity Government (NUG), formed in the wake of the coup, and its armed wing, the People’s Defence Force (PDF), as terrorist organisations.

Refusing to talk to either group, Min Aung Hlaing has invited ethnic armed organisations for peace talks, but the major groups, which are engaged in heavy fighting with junta troops, have rejected his offer, demanding the NUG and PDF be included in any negotiations.

Refusing access to detained elected leaders

Breaching a commitment it made under the consensus, the junta has continuously rejected all demands – not only from the regional bloc, the United Nations and the West, but also from China – to meet Myanmar’s detained leaders, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint.

Also read: Exclusive: US Urges BIMSTEC to Follow ASEAN’s Path and Bar Myanmar Junta’s Participation

A planned visit to the country by ASEAN’s first special envoy, appointed to implement the consensus commitment, was cancelled when the junta denied him access to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders.

Myanmar’s former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Humanitarian assistance

It was only last week that ASEAN’s current chair, Cambodia, hosted a consultative meeting on ASEAN humanitarian assistance for Myanmar with the junta and international aid organisations, announcing a plan to deliver aid via the regime.

The decision has attracted widespread condemnation both locally and internationally, with critics pointing out that it breaches ASEAN’s own Five-Point Consensus.

“It was a one-sided meeting that only engaged with the regime and its outcome is meaningless. ASEAN should hold a multi-stakeholder dialogue in accordance with the Five-Point Consensus and take action according to the outcome of such dialogue. Now ASEAN itself has violated the Consensus,” said the deputy executive director of the Chin Human Rights Organisation, Salai Za Uk Ling.

Engaging the wrong party

Yanghee Lee, a former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, recently pointed out that ASEAN’s consensus had failed because the bloc was engaging with the wrong party, referring to its decision to deal with the regime instead of the NUG.

The member of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M) also said the NUG represents Myanmar and is the proper party to lead engagement with ASEAN.

“The NUG has demonstrated that it is the constructive partner that ASEAN needs to make any progress towards resolving the crisis,” she added.

NUG foreign minister Daw Zin Mar Aung also urged ASEAN member states and leaders to engage with different stakeholders in line with the Five-Point Consensus, in a recent interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA).

After a year of being ignored by the junta and seeing no willingness on its part to cooperate and abide by the consensus, some ASEAN member states have begun to engage with the NUG.

Malaysia’s foreign minister met with his counterpart from the NUG on Saturday in Washington, where ASEAN leaders were gathered for a special summit between the US and the bloc. Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah became the first minister from an ASEAN member country to personally and publicly meet a NUG minister.

In the interview, Daw Zin Mar Aung also called on ASEAN to move beyond the current non-workable solution.

“We very much support the Five-Point Consensus. It needs to be implemented. But the problem is that there is no accountability mechanism. Now it is time for ASEAN to move forward, whether the coup leaders implement it properly or not. If not, what happens next? This is the question for the ASEAN leadership,” she told RFA.

However, ASEAN and the rest of the world continue to treat the consensus, which has proved a failure for over a year, as a roadmap for Myanmar.

In a joint statement released after the summit, the US and ASEAN leaders reiterated their support for the failed consensus on the issue of Myanmar, and called for “timely and complete implementation” of the plan.

Unless this failed approach is abandoned and stronger action adopted, there will be no progress toward pressing the junta to end its violence against civilians.

And the junta’s brutality will continue unabated.

This article was originally published on The Irrawaddy and is republished here with permission.