Pro-democracy activists in Myanmar were correct in rejecting an agreement between their country’s military dictator and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The ASEAN gathering was the first coordinated international effort to ease the crisis in Myanmar, which has been in turmoil—with protests, deaths, arrests and a nationwide strike that has crippled the economy—since the Feb. 1 coup that overthrew the democratically elected government.
Aside from Myanmar’s junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, the leaders of Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Brunei were at the emergency meeting in Jakarta, along with the foreign ministers of Laos, Thailand and the Philippines.
A statement from ASEAN chair Brunei said a consensus was reached in Jakarta on five points:
• First, there shall be immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties shall exercise utmost restraint.
• Second, constructive dialogue among all parties concerned shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.
• Third, a special envoy of the ASEAN Chair shall facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the Secretary-General of ASEAN.
• Fourth, ASEAN shall provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre.
• Fifth, the special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.
The five-point consensus did not have a timeline or mention the release of political prisoners.
It isn’t too difficult to see why activists braving the military crackdown in Myanmar, which has killed more than 700 civilians, would find the agreement unacceptable. Given the savagery of the military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, the ASEAN “demand” for an end to the violence with no specific deadline seemed particularly lame.
“ASEAN cannot paper over the fact that there is no agreement for the junta to release the political prisoners currently in detention, including senior political figures who presumably would be involved in any negotiated solution to the crisis,” said Phil Robertson of the group Human Rights Watch.
“Not only were the representatives of the Myanmar people not invited to the Jakarta meeting but they also got left out of the consensus that ASEAN is now patting itself on the back for reaching,” he said in a statement.
The sentiment was shared by pro-democracy activists on the ground in Myanmar.
“ASEAN’s statement is a slap on the face of the people who have been abused, killed and terrorised by the military,” said one pro-democracy supporter on his Facebook page. “We do not need your help with that mindset and approach.”
Another said: “Who will pay the price for the over 700 innocent lives?”
The inclusion of Myanmar’s murderous dictator in the Jakarta talks was insulting enough; urging “utmost restraint” from all parties concerned—presumably including pro-democracy demonstrators defending their rights in the streets—simply made matters worse.
By accommodating Myanmar’s dictator in the Jakarta talks, the leaders of the ASEAN gave the brutal military regime there an air of legitimacy it certainly doesn’t deserve. It’s five-point consensus is nothing more than lipstick on a pig.