Human Right Issues and Challenges to Create Regional Architecture

During the ASEAN Ministers Retreat on 7 February 2018, in order to contribute to the ecosystem of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi proposed the development of a regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific region. The proposal is a further action of her annual press statement in January 2018 and part of Indonesia’s foreign policy priorities to strengthen ASEAN unity and fostering cooperation and the need to prioritize peace and democracy as well as respect to human rights in Southeast Asia.

The problem is, in the age of 50 of its existence, ASEAN become an organization who can boast economic growth to the highest level outside China and India. But when it comes to human rights, there are many things to note, such as the implementation of human rights in Myanmar.

In late August 2017 when the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state is becoming increasingly dire and complex. The problem, which was originally a domestic issue of Myanmar, eventually rose to a regional issue as more than half million Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since the Myanmar military began its violent crackdown in the region.

infografik Rohingya

In this connection it is seen that the effort to overcome the human rights crisis in Myanmar has become one of the challenges that must be addressed by ASEAN and the countries in the Indo-Pacific region. As stated by Minister Retno “Becoming spectators and remaining silent are not the options for ASEAN to address challenges and opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region.”

For that reason, it is not a coincidence that Indonesia took the initiative to assist the resolution of the crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. While ASEAN and most of the ASEAN countries did not exert adequate pressure to the Myanmar leaders to take back the Rohingyas and ensure peace and security in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Indonesia has been actively involved to terminate conflicts and violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, and seek solution of the problem.

In September 2017 Minister Retno visited Yangoon to meet her counterpart and Myanmar’s high ranking official to submit a proposal to Myanmar. With this visit, Indonesia was one of the first countries to arrive in Myanmar and Bangladesh in the aftermath of the “new cycle of violence” in August 2017.

The Minister proposed the Formula 4+1 to restore peace and allow humanitarian access to Rakhine state. In the proposal, Indonesia calls for the end of all forms of violence; the restoration of security and stability; protection of all persons; the opening of humanitarian access; and the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Kofi Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

As a reflection of its solidarity, Indonesia delivered humanitarian aid both to Myanmar and Bangladesh. Further more, the second phase of development for the Indonesian Hospital in Mrauk U, Rakhine State, was also commenced in Januari 2018.

At the same time, Indonesia encourages also ASEAN to pay more attention to human rights issues in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The ASEAN Charter clearly provides that “ASEAN and its member states shall act in accordance with” the principle of “respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and the promotion of social justice”. Further Article 20(4) provides that “in the case of a serious breach of the Charter or noncompliance, the matter shall be referred to the ASEAN Summit for decision;” and Article 7(2)(d) that “The ASEAN Summit shall… address emergency situations affecting ASEAN by taking appropriate actions”.

As the result, even ASEAN did not give adequate pressure to the Myanmar leaders, ASEAN expressed its continued support for Myanmar’s humanitarian relief programme in Rakhine State and welcomed the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre)’s ongoing work with the Myanmar Government-led mechanism to deliver humanitarian assistance to all displaced persons without discrimination. Indonesia has been the driving force behind the AHA Center in Rakhine State

The success of this constructive approach by Indonesia shows that Indonesia’s foreign policy direction is correct and can be continued. Indonesia can not let Myanmar solve its own problems alone, at the same time, Indonesia should keep the unity and centrality of ASEAN.

Policy Recommendation

Referring to the subject above, it appears that the issues of human right in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has been internationally accused to be the issues of serious human rights violations in forms of genocide and ethnic cleansing. If this issue is not handled properly, it will affect the common efforts to create an ecosystem of peace, stability and prosperity in Southeast Asia, including Indo-Pacific region.

In this regard, in order to serve ASEAN as a model and implementing Indonesia’s proposal to create regional architecture in Indo-Pacific, Indonesia therefore should overcome as follows:

  1. Continuing Indonesia’s leadership role in ASEAN and implementing proposal to establish regional architecture in Indo-Pacific.
  2. Since Indonesia proposed the formula 4+1 to Myanmar,  Indonesia could continue its active role as well as monitor and ensures the full implementation of the proposal to convince the establishment ecosystem of peace, stability and prosperity in the Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific region.
  3. Establish sustainable Indonesia’s humanitarian diplomacy by providing health and education assistance to Myanmar’s Rakhine state;
  4. Encourage ASEAN to overcomes its structural inertia so it will not disrupt the existing stability;
  5. Empowers ASEAN regional human rights body to address the human rights aspect of the issue such as Myanmar’s Rakhine State issues;
  6. Attaches as much value to human dignity as it does to economic growth.

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