EMILY CAPOUYA WRITES – On November 10th, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, expressed “concern” over the plight of the 730,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, urging Myanmar to deal with the “root causes” of the crisis and work towards their safe repatriation to Rakhine state. The meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was designed to discuss non-interventionist policy goals and initiatives.
But should ASEAN do more? According to a report by TIME, there is a “need to find a comprehensive and durable solution to address the root causes of the conflict and to create a conducive environment so that the affected communities can rebuild their lives.” Accordingly, Guterres himself encouraged Myanmar to initiate measures “to facilitate dialogue with refugees and pursue confidence building measures.” A statement released by the meeting’s host country, Thailand, summarized general agreement on accentuating positive steps to take in dealing with the Rakhine crisis.
There was a lack of agreement, though, regarding refugees in overcrowded camps across the border in Bangladesh.
Remember that in August 2017, the Rohingya, accused of serious terrorism, fled to Bangladesh after Myanmar’s military began a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against them. During the crackdown, U.N. investigators and human rights groups maintained that Myanmar security forces carried out mass killings and rapes, and that Rohingya homes were burned, which could be evidence of ethnic cleansing or even “genocidal intent.”
A majority of ASEAN’S 10 countries have agreed to honor the organization’s principle, in accordance with international law, of “non-intervention in the internal [affairs] of other countries;” but southeastern countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia would benefit from a broader, or deeper, style of engagement that goes beyond urging Myanmar to address root causes of violence and its responsibility to provide security and assistance to those in need.
So far, ASEAN’s involvement has been mostly limited to humanitarian aid. That may not be enough to help mitigate if not solve the Rohingya crisis.