The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) calls for Myanmar’s top general and coup d’état leader, Min Aung Hlaing, to end the killings of Myanmar protesters in Special Summit. Since the military coup d’état on February 1, 2021, of the democratically elected party ‘National League for Democracy,’ protesters have been targeted by Tatmadaw and police forces. So far, the coup has resulted in over 700 protesters killed, thousands arrested, and nearly a quarter of a million people displaced. In the two-hour meeting between ASEAN nations, leaders told Min Aung Hlaing that dialogue must immediately start between contending parties in Myanmar.
During the ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, countries issued a five-point consensus calling for “immediate cessation” of the violence occurring in Myanmar and an “utmost restraint” from Myanmar’s junta chief. Indonesian President Joko Widodo exclaimed that “the situation in Myanmar is unacceptable and should not continue.” Mr. Widodo remained adamant that the “violence must be stopped, democracy, stability, and peace in Myanmar must be returned immediately,” as the Myanmar government should always have “the interests of the people of Myanmar.”
Critics denounce the junta leaders’ presence at the ASEAN special summit, raising an essential question of legitimizing the government. Human rights advocate and former United Nations rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, warned in Nikkei Asia news that “it is crucial that there is no international recognition of the military regime” and instead advocated that ASEAN recognize the joint coalition of the National Unity Government “as the legitimate government of the country.”
The National Unity Government includes a cabinet of members democratically elected in the 2020 election and influential anti-coup individuals, all of whom perform remotely in exile from the government. Through the process of recognizing the National Unity Government, Myanmar’s junta leader could be delegitimized. Without the support of ASEAN nations, the chief could be severely limited in enforcing power within Myanmar. Within Myanmar, private media organizations have had their broadcast licenses revoked, limiting the outreach of influential media organizations, further demonstrating the need for outside support of the Myanmar people.
While ASEAN countries pat themselves on the back for their unanimous deal, Reuters news points out that there is growing frustration that the five-point consensus is limited in its influence. There is no strong language mentioning the release of political prisoners or taking responsibility for the deaths of Myanmar civilians.
The effect of not using strong language against Tatmadaw forces violence affects those most vulnerable. Since October of 2016, the military of Myanmar has committed an ethnic and religious genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya people. The failure to use strong language condemning the violence and arrests carried out in the coup could lead to the continued denial of Rohingya peoples suffering by the military regime, similar to Aung San Suu Kyi’s denial of the Muslim Rohingya genocide.
Leading up to the coup, as a BBC timeline breaks down, the military began the process of democratic elections in 2011. In 2015, National League for Democracy won a landslide election, with military appointees representing the largest opposition to the new governing party. On February 1st, 2021, the Myanmar military, led by Min Aung Hlaing, took control of the government, citing widespread voting fraud in the 2020 election. Tatmadaw forces arrested Aung San Suu Kyi, where she faces various charges, including violating the country’s official secrets act, possessing illegal walkie-talkies and publishing information, which the forces cite may “cause fear or alarm.”
If ASEAN does not vehemently condemn the violence and arrests made by Tatmadaw and police forces, the future of peace in Myanmar will be in question, with the most vulnerable citizens facing significant violence.