Toothless Consensus

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Laila Afifa

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  • General view of the ASEAN leaders' meeting at the the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretariat building in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 24, 2021. Courtesy of Laily Rachev/Indonesian Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

    General view of the ASEAN leaders' meeting at the the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretariat building in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 24, 2021. Courtesy of Laily Rachev/Indonesian Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Although it may sound good, the agreement by ASEAN leaders on Myanmar is non-binding and will be difficult to implement. It is like a dog barking at passing cars.

    THE Myanmar military is cancer in the heart of Southeast Asia. The generals in that nation have long been gnawing away at peace in the region. After the coup led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on February 1, they began brutally killing the people of Myanmar. Pro-democracy activists were detained, tortured, and killed. Myanmar has become a state of terror.

    At least 739 people have been killed, including children. Meanwhile, more than 3,330 have been jailed, including Aung San Suu Kyi and the leadership of her party, the National League for Democracy. Thousands of people have fled to India and Thailand seeking safety. If this state of affairs continues, it is possible that there will be a second wave of refugees from Myanmar after the Rohingya.

    Nations in the region have mostly said nothing, or at best have politely asked for an end to the violence. This happened again when the leaders of the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered in Jakarta on April 24. This meeting produced five non-binding consensuses without any strategy for their implementation. For General Min, the ASEAN consensus can be described by the saying "a dog barking at passing cars."

    One of these consensuses asks all sides to end the violence in Myanmar. This request sounds more like empty words because ASEAN has no authority to intervene in the internal affairs of its members. And neither does the association have an instrument like the peacekeeping troops of the United Nations that can protect civilians in conflict regions.

    The same can be said on another consensus about constructive dialogue. ASEAN has no means to bring the armed civil conflicts that have broken out in various parts of Myanmar to the negotiating table. Even the Myanmar government would need decades to persuade them to sign a ceasefire agreement. So the consensus is like whistling in the wind. We know that negotiations cannot go ahead without the release of political prisoners, the people with an important role in ending violence. Such releases were not included in the consensus.

    Hence, the consensus about ASEAN's special representative to be pointed to mediate dialogue will also be ineffective. The best mediator in a conflict is one that is accepted by both sides, not one forced from outside. And the association cannot suddenly send somebody and hope that he or she can intervene in the conflict.

    In other words, the consensuses of the ASEAN leaders will not change the situation in Myanmar. ASEAN is not the European Union or the Organization of American States (OAS), which are able to intervene in their member states. History also shows that ASEAN has never been able to resolve other crises in its member nations, such as the coup in Thailand, the killings in the name of the war on drugs in the Philippines, or the muzzling of opposition in Cambodia. So do not hope that ASEAN will now be able to do much to resolve the problems in Myanmar. After signing the ASEAN consensuses, the leaders of the member nations went home, and the people of Myanmar continue to face military brutality.

    Read the Complete Story in Tempo English Magazine