KUALA LUMPUR: DAP MP Charles Santiago says it is “deeply disappointing” that the Asean members failed to act decisively to address the ongoing Rohingya crisis, despite urgings from Malaysia.
He said this following a meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Yangon focused on the situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
“That Malaysia failed to convince other Asean members of the urgent need to act is deeply disappointing. Through continued inaction, Asean risks failing the people at its centre.
“This meeting should have been an opportunity to take decisive action to protect vulnerable civilians and hold the Myanmar government and military accountable.
“Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, it seems it was largely an act of political theatre,” said Santiago, who also serves as chairperson of Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
“Sadly, Asean foreign ministers caved in to Aung San Suu Kyi’s sweet talk and have seemingly put the Rohingya issue on the back burner.
“That’s bad news for the tens of thousands of Rohingya still trapped without aid access in Rakhine State, and it’s bad news for the region, which will ultimately pay the price for Myanmar’s inability or unwillingness to properly address the situation.
“The bottom line is that evidence and scores of reports of abuses has fallen on deaf ears.”
Santiago praised the comments delivered at the meeting by Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, who highlighted alleged human rights abuses and called on Myanmar and other regional governments to take stronger steps to address the crisis.
However, he lamented Anifah’s failure to convince regional counterparts of the need to take immediate action.
“It was encouraging to hear that Anifah highlighted alleged abuses and raised the prospect of an Asean investigating team made up of independent experts.
“Yet it appears this call too fell on deaf ears in Yangon. It is unfortunate because such an inquiry, if truly independent, would have contributed to revealing the truth and ensuring that abuses are not met with impunity,” Santiago said.
During the meeting, Anifah expressed “grave concern” over “reports from many sources alleging arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, including of children, rape by soldiers, burning of Rohingya villages as well as destruction of homes and places of worship”.
Invoking the 2015 regional refugee crisis, Anifah also declared that the situation clearly constituted a “regional concern” and called for immediate humanitarian access to Rakhine State, as well as for Asean to establish an independent group of experts to investigate the situation there.
Despite his urgings, however, the meeting ended without clear commitments from the Myanmar government beyond a pledge to keep Asean counterparts updated on developments in Rakhine State.
Asean foreign ministers, besides Anifah, largely shied away from questioning the Myanmar government’s actions in the context of the crisis.
“Asean ministers gave Suu Kyi a pass and are effectively allowing the Myanmar authorities to get away with murder in Rakhine State,” Santiago said.
“Malaysia was right to raise the spectre of ethnic cleansing and even genocide — acts in which Asean risks complicity if it continues to sit on the sidelines.”
Santiago emphasised that the Malaysian government’s strong public stance on the Rohingya situation in Myanmar did not absolve it of the urgent responsibility to address the needs of the Rohingya refugees at home.
“At the meeting, Anifah mentioned the 56,000 Rohingya refugees we have in Malaysia. If the government is serious about stepping up and providing some real regional leadership on this issue, it needs to start at home.
“That means providing Rohingya refugees in Malaysia with access to legal registration, basic services, and job opportunities.
“Signing the 1951 Refugee Convention would also go a long way to demonstrate a serious level of commitment,” Santiago said.