Calls are mounting for ASEAN to punish Myanmar’s junta for executing four political prisoners, with one analyst proposing that the Southeast Asian bloc undertake the unprecedented move of suspending Naypyidaw as a member.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi echoed her Malaysian counterpart in calling for a special discussion on Myanmar at a ministerial-level meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations scheduled for next week.
On Tuesday, the 10-member association issued its harshest criticism of the Burmese junta to date, calling the executions of the four dissidents “highly reprehensible,” while Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah branded the hangings as a “crime against humanity.”
But political commentators across the region are saying that ASEAN, which operates by consensus, needs to follow up on its tough words by taking stricter action against the military-ruled member-state for violating a five-point consensus struck in April 2021 that included an end to violence in post-coup Myanmar.
The executions of veteran pro-democracy Ko Jimmy and the three other political prisoners “might be the tipping point” for ASEAN, according to Sharon Seah, a scholar at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
“ASEAN needs to rethink seriously its approach to Myanmar, including a form of de facto temporary suspension even though the ASEAN Charter does not explicitly provide for it,” Seah, coordinator of the ASEAN Studies Center and the Climate Change at the institute, wrote on Twitter.
“If ASEAN doesn’t take tougher actions, it will appear weak and lack credibility. Yet, if it does, it risks closing the door on negotiation with the SAC permanently,” she said, referring to the State Administrative Council, the official name for the military regime led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
In its 55-year history, the 10-member ASEAN has never banned or expelled a member. In 1997, when Cambodia’s then co-Prime Minister Hun Sen overthrew Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the country only had “observer status” in ASEAN.
Because of the coup, ASEAN held off on admitting Cambodia, and sent foreign ministers from Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines there to mediate for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, much like it tried to do with the special envoy in Myanmar.
The ASEAN charter says: “In the case of a serious breach of the Charter or non-compliance, the matter will be referred to the ASEAN Summit for decision.”
In the view of Aizat Khairi, a professor at the University of Kuala Lumpur, some form of punishment needs to be meted out for the executions.
“It is likely difficult to expel Myanmar from ASEAN but it is a stand that, if taken, will send a strong message to the junta that ASEAN indeed stands united and does not tolerate crimes against humanity,” he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated news service.
Aizat said ASEAN could take junta leaders to the International Court of Justice and impose economic sanctions.
The bloc also needs to start engaging with the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) and National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), a shadow administration outlawed by the junta, he said.
Call for ‘coherent approach’
The Burmese junta put to death Ko Jimmy (whose real name is Kyaw Min Yu), former National League for Democracy lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw, as well as activists Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw – likely on Saturday – but announced their executions on Monday.
A military court had convicted them over “terrorist” acts and they lost appeals against their death sentences. The junta had also rejected the possibility of a pardon for the condemned men.
Their executions have drawn worldwide condemnation.
Seah, of ISEAS, said although Myanmar has been barred from sending political representatives to ASEAN foreign ministerial meetings, it has been allowed to send political representative to other ministerial meetings.
She suggested that Myanmar be stripped of its ASEAN roles and duties.
“ASEAN has no levers in this game of brinksmanship with the SAC. For a start, ASEAN needs to be coherent in its approach,” she said.
In Indonesia, where ASEAN is headquartered, the English-language Jakarta Post called for “tough action against the cold-blooded Myanmar junta.”
“Now President [Joko] Jokowi [Widodo] should show the world that ASEAN cannot tolerate the barbaric acts of Gen. [Min Aung] Hlaing,” the Post said in an editorial that did not hold back.
“ASEAN’s silence would only send the wrong signal that it condoned the brutality,” it said.
The Post urged Retno, Indonesia’s top diplomat, to initiate an emergency meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers “to discuss collective actions against the Myanmar junta for its blatant contempt of the five-point agreement.”
Following criticism of a lack of condemnation from Indonesia, Retno said Wednesday that the executions had dealt a blow to the five-point consensus.
“The president expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in the implementation [of the consensus],” Retno told a press conference.
“I have proposed that the ASEAN ministerial meeting in early August in Phnom Penh specifically discuss the latest development.”
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