Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Cambodian and regional CSOs urge ASEAN to take a stronger stance on Myanmar coup

Cambodian civil society groups petitioned the Myanmar Embassy in Phnom Penh in February to restore democracy after the military coup earlier this month. Licadho
Cambodian civil society groups petitioned the Myanmar Embassy in Phnom Penh in February to restore democracy after the military coup earlier this month. Licadho

More than 200 civil society organizations and institutions from Southeast Asia and beyond have called on ASEAN governments to take a stronger stand against Myanmar’s military junta, as indiscriminate violence against protesters continues to worsen. 

In a 27-point Joint Declaration of the Southeast Asian People-to-People Region Hall on the Crisis in Myanmar issued Thursday, the 223 signatories say they regard “the Myanmar Crisis as a test for ASEAN Community, ASEAN Centrality, and ASEAN Charter.”

“We disagree with those who use and abuse the principle of non-interference for a justification for non-action. This does not reflect the spirit of ASEAN Charter,” the declaration notes. “We are therefore confident that our voices will not be ignored but will be taken into account in ASEAN’s decision-making on the crisis in Myanmar.”

Earlier this week, the governments of Malaysia and Brunei announced that ASEAN would hold a special summit on Myanmar with an eye to addressing the crisis, though no date has been set yet. The 10-country regional bloc has a founding tenant of non-intervention which critics say has frequently been used as a fig leaf to avoid engaging on or criticizing human rights violations.

“ASEAN needs to demonstrate a greater sense of urgency commensurate with the worsening situation on the ground,” the declaration notes, suggesting that ASEAN appoint a Special Envoy to help negotiate a “political solution that is just and acceptable to the people of the country.”

The group urges ASEAN and the larger international community to recognize Myanmar’s government-in-exile, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) rather than the Tatmadaw.

In a webinar held Thursday, representatives said they were also urging the two major powers nearest to Myanmar — China and India — to take an active role in convincing the junta to cede power back to the civilian government.  

“It is quite clear that China is accountable with this situation because the coup and regime has destabilized the country and making threat China’s economy and security interest,” said Dino Patti Djalal, Chairman of Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia.

Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, seized power from the elected civilian government on February 1, arresting its leaders and beginning a brutal campaign against the pro-democracy protesters who took to the streets in the wake of the coup.

Soldiers have killed nearly 600 people, including young children, and arrested thousands.

Adhoc and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) are among the signatories to the declaration.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of CCHR, said ASEAN must answer the calls for support coming from Myanmar and step in to help, in line with the ASEAN Charter which highlights the association’s adherence to “the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance.”

“We also encourage all governments that have proclaimed their commitment to democracy and human rights to match their words with actions and to take a firm stand on the issue, denouncing this illegitimate and unlawful power takeover,” she said.

“At such a dire time for Burmese democracy and the stability of the region, silence based on the argument of “non-interference” is unacceptable – nothing short of immediate action and strong condemnation will do.”

Only a few ASEAN countries, including Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines are actively seeking a resolution. Thailand, which is also led by a military government, has stayed silent, while Prime Minister Hun Sen said previously that the coup is Myanmar’s “internal affair.”

In March, however, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Cambodia would join ASEAN members on the issue of Myanmar.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong told CamboJA on Thursday that Cambodia is “ready to work together with other ASEAN members including Myanmar itself because we focus on consistent policy and Cambodia will follow the unity principle as ASEAN.”

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