IR INSIDER

Powered by IR Society at NYU

IR Insider is a production of NYU's International Relations Society. Our goal is to explain and discuss issues in IR in an engaging and thought-provoking fashion. We are written by students, for students, about issues students care about. 

ASEAN Members Urge Myanmar to Resolve and be Accountable for Rohingya Crisis

Southeast Asian foreign ministers have made a call for accountability concerning Myanmar and the violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, met informally last week during the UN General Assembly, urging Myanmar to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the attacks against the Rohingya Muslims.

"I want to emphasize that ultimately the responsibility for resolving this must lie with the government of Myanmar, and we will hold them to account," said Vivian Balakrishnan, a foreign minister for Singapore, addressing Singapore’s Parliament.

ASEAN members want to see Myanmar follow through on the recommendations presented by the UN Advisory Commission on the Rakhine State and begin the repatriation process. Balakrishnan calls the Rohingya crisis a “man-made humanitarian disaster” and believes that if the situation remains unresolved, the violence could expand beyond Myanmar’s borders.

 Rohingya refugees wait for boats in Myanmar to take them to Bangladesh.  Photo: Adam Dean, The New York Times

Rohingya refugees wait for boats in Myanmar to take them to Bangladesh. Photo: Adam Dean, The New York Times

As of last August, 725,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from the Rakhine State of Myanmar due to a violent military campaign. Rohingya Muslims are not considered citizens of Myanmar and are currently a stateless group.

The UN has cited the anti-Rohingya attacks as “textbook ethnic cleansing.”

In response, Myanmar’s government has justified its actions as a defense against Muslim terrorists. Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, stated that calling the attacks an “ethnic cleansing” is too strong of a characterization.

"It is a matter of people on different sides of the divide, and this divide we are trying to close up,” defended Kyi.

To resolve the displacement of the thousands of Rohingya Muslims, the UN and Myanmar had reached an agreement, in June, to repatriate the Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar safely.  

During the UN General Assembly last week, UN deputy humanitarian chief, Ursula Mueller, expressed concerns about whether or not Myanmar had considered the conditions the Rohingya Muslims would return to. Mueller explained that Myanmar has not made a substantial effort to ameliorate these conditions and, therefore, cannot begin the repatriation process.

The history of repatriation of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar traces back to last November: Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed to begin resettling the Rohingya. However, they were met with the refugee’s grave concerns on returning to unsafe and perilous conditions.

Mueller stressed for donors to assist Bangladesh wherein 693,000 Rohingya refugees have resettled. Bangladesh’s request for aid has only been 38 percent funded so far.

As one of the ASEAN members, Singapore has provided assistance to Bangladesh and is willing to proceed with further aid if Bangladesh requires. However, Balakrishnan stressed that, ultimately, humanitarian aid is not the solution to this crisis.

“You actually need a long-term solution,” said Balakrishnan, addressing the Parliament, “And a long-term solution is a political solution.”

ASEAN nations can only provide advice, and urge for accountability and the repatriation process. Because of the group’s unanimous voting structure, the organization cannot compel Myanmar to do anything.

 A Rohingya refugee carrying water through a refugee camp in Bangladesh.  Photo: Rebecca Conway, The New York Times

A Rohingya refugee carrying water through a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Photo: Rebecca Conway, The New York Times