Editorial Notes

Asean should lead effort to end Rohingya crisis: The Nation

In its editorial, the paper says that open forums where all sides get a chance to explain their stances could bring about peace and reconciliation.

Rohingya refugees renovate their temporary homes along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border on Feb 27, 2018.
Rohingya refugees renovate their temporary homes along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border on Feb 27, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - With the term "genocide" increasingly being applied to the Myanmar government's brutal treatment of the ethnic Rohingya minority - more than 700,000 of whom have been driven from their homes in western Rakhine state into Bangladesh - it would be unusual, to say the least, if other member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) remained silent on the matter.

Despite government efforts to bar foreign observers' access to the "scene of the crime" in Rakhine, there have been several reports detailing the atrocities that have been committed there, including analyses by the United Nations, non-governmental organisations and news media.

If not genocide, there are widespread crimes against humanity taking place.

If not genocide, it is ethnic cleansing.

The reports list incidents of arson, torture, murder, rape and massacre.

Hundreds of Rohingya villages have been razed and the debris bulldozed into oblivion.

Rohingya still living in the country are routinely threatened. Myanmar wants Bangladesh to cut off food supplies to more than 6,000 refugees stuck in the "no man's land" along the border.

Yanghee Lee, the UN's Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has on several occasions said the situation bears "the hallmarks of genocide".

She feels unable to definitively call it genocide before a credible international tribunal or court has a chance to weigh the evidence, but has said, "We are seeing signs and it is building up to that."

Late last month there was a "Berlin Conference on the Myanmar Genocide" at the Jewish Museum in the German capital.

The participating scholars, activists and concerned citizens from around the world focused on "signs of genocide mounting".

Lee's caution about applying the term is understandable. The matter does have to go before an international hearing.

For now, though, the world can proceed with a different kind of tribunal.

Open forums should be organised at which everyone involved in the crisis, including the Myanmar government and the Tatmadaw (military), has a chance to explain and justify their role and share their observations. And Asean is the prime agency to do the organising.

To date, the 10-nation bloc has shielded Myanmar, a member, refusing to condemn the attacks on the Rohingya, instead merely expressing "concern" in the meekest diplomatic terminology and offering humanitarian aid.

The situation has steadily worsened in recent months.

Atrocities are still being committed, even as the government claims to be working to resolve the crisis.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's de factor head of state, has appointed Surakiart Sathirathai, a former foreign minister of Thailand, to advise her on ways to implement recommendations made by a Rakhine mission led by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general - recommendations she has long ignored.

Given the complexity of the crisis, everyone concedes that Surakiart faces an uphill struggle.

The difficulties in reaching a satisfactory resolution will remain in place until all stakeholders can sit down together and listen to the opposing viewpoints with open minds.

Foreign efforts to shame Suu Kyi into ending the atrocities have not worked, and nor has Asean's embarrassing insistence on saving face.

An entirely fresh approach is needed to save the Rohingya, and Asean could play a leading role in bridging the gap and coordinating an adequate international response.

It should get started immediately.

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.