Yogyakarta, Friday, November 24th, 2018
The series of Bincang ASEAN was concluded with a very problematic discussion over the humanitarian crisis situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. This Bincang ASEAN was commenced on 24 November 2018 with Diah Triceseria as the speaker. The alleged ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslim minority still continues after today. These people who are predominantly lived in Arakan now known as Rakhine State or Western Burma are forced out of the area. Citizenship Act 1982 does not include Rohingya as one of its eight recognized ethnicities. Due to its implementation, they are denied citizenship status by the government. Under this act, they are excluded from eight recognized ethnicities, which include Bamar, Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Kayah, Mon, Rakhine, and Shan.
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (2017), there are 146,500 internally displaced people in Rakhine state. The allegedly ethnic cleansing done by the Burmese security forces resulted in other mass atrocities and humanitarian violence such as raping, torture, killing, as well as more than 480,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh in the search of a more secured living. Human Rights Watch reports that there has been a massive destruction of more than 210 villages in Rakhine State. This issue has attracted international attention, oftentimes generating people’s sympathy calling to help their distant strangers. Human Rights Watch called for an urgent response to address the crisis in the Human Rights Council last September 19, 2017. This issue also appeals U.S. Senators to ask U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and Administrator Green to give a diplomatic influence against Myanmar’s government for not resolving the crisis. There has also been a call for the United Nations Security Council to come up with a resolution by imposing sanctions and an arms embargo on the Burmese military and remain seized in the matter. However, no resolution has been made and no states has been seen willing to intervene directly in Myanmar to address this humanitarian issue.
Recent the Development of the Issue
The International Criminal Court’s pre-trial chamber’s statement made recently this month, says that the leaders of Myanmar could still be investigated for the alleged crimes against humanity- in this case, a forcible transfer of a population. Nonetheless, it is never easy to bring this case before the ICC. Although it seems to us that the ICC could help solve the crisis, the way to get there is still afar from
nearly possible. Myanmar is not a signatory to the court, meaning that the ICC does not have its jurisdiction in the country. The only way to get there is to wait until the refugees enter Bangladesh, a state party to the Rome statute governing the court. Until then, the investigation would be completed.
Diah Triceseria contends that Indonesia has never been a place for the Rohingya refugees to seek shelters. Nonetheless, most of the refugees that transit in Indonesia come from Afganistan and Pakistan; usually they are refugees who want to go to Australia, but stranded in the Indonesian waters because of the ‘turn back the boat’ policy of the Australian government. As a regional intergovernmental organization, ASEAN does not seem to offer much in solving this issue. Through the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance, ASEAN delivered some assistances to the Rohingya.
The ‘non-interference’ principle of ASEAN does not allow the organization to talk about the issue if it relates to the domestic politics of its member state, as what is exactly going on in Myanmar. Thus, the Rohingya are also helpless per se because they could live up their expectation to ASEAN. Many of them decide to go to India as the country has a big Islamic community, aside from the fact that they could also work there. The working permit is also possible to be granted in Malaysia, hence why some go to Malaysia. ASEAN is expected to play larger contribution to this issue regardless.
The situation in Myanmar politics is so muddy to the point that we could not blame Aung San Suu Kyi for not taking action. The situation in which she is put with no choice also worsens the scenario. As the people in Myanmar do not want to acknowledge the Rohingya as part of their people, Aung San Suu Kyi decided to remain silent as she knows that by saying something wrong would risk the country to be controlled again, in a greater scale, by the military who is now still dominating the vital ministries in Myanmar. What is worse is that they have the seats as much as one third of the parliament. Changing the constitution would not be likely too, as it requires simple majority- not possible until the military loses grips on the parliament.
Efforts to repatriate the Rohingya people since mid 2018 has been made by ASEAN, and was discussed (briefly) on ASEAN Summit with the conclusion of “sending a regional task force to assist in the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar”. It is scheduled that the transfer of the first batch of 2,260 Rohingya from camps in Bangladesh to temporary detention facilities across the border in
Myanmar’s Rakhine State would be done before the end of 2018 nobody is willing to return. This shows that hopes are still small for the Rohingya to feel secure again to go back there. In this case, the solidarity among ASEAN Member States would not be sufficient to change the course of politics in Myanmar, I would argue, but still hold firm that it would alleviate the human sufferings for the Rohingya minority by giving them aids and assistance in our best capacity.
 Council, Internal. 2017. “IDMC » Myanmar IDP Figure Analysis”. Internal-Displacement.Org. http://www.internal-displacement.org/south-and-south-east-asia/myanmar/figures-analysis.
Written by Kevin Iskandar Putra, research intern at the ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada