May 19, 2015
It is Humanitarian Intervention, Not Interference
In this commentary on Ms. Khoo’s article I take the view that ASEAN’s non-interference principle can be reviewed in the context of regional concerns about human rights, human trafficking and security.Times have have changed. There is no harm done to review its applicability in keeping with regional and international developments.
But to my mind, there is no doubt about its continued relevance in intra-ASEAN relations and international relations. The principle is also embodied in the United Nations Charter. There are times like the present Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugee crisis that affect the littoral states of Thailand. Malaysia and Indonesia when quick collective action should be taken to rescue those still at sea from certain death and stamp out the flow of refugees. Both Myanmar and Bangladesh are responsible for precipitating this humanitarian crisis and they have a duty to deal with it. As they have not, regional and international intervention to tackle serious human rights abuses is warranted.
The non-intervention principle can be suspended but that does not invalidate its value as a guiding principle governing relations among nation states. But ASEAN must look at mechanisms for rapid action in times of human tragedy.
ASEAN holds dear to the principle of non-interference which is enshrined in the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (SEATAC). The purpose of the Treaty is to promote perpetual peace, everlasting amity and co-operation among the people of Southeast Asia which would contribute to their strength, solidarity, and closer relationship. In their relations with one another, ASEAN leaders would be guided by the following fundamental principles:
- a. mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations,
- b. the right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion,
- c. non-interference in the internal affairs of one another,
- d. settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means,
- e. renunciation of the threat or use of force, and
- f. effective co-operation among themselves.
SEATAC is also the document which countries like the United States, China and others are required to become signatories before they can be dialogue partners in the ASEAN Regional Forum. ASEAN leaders thought (they were right) that this principle was fundamental to the preservation of peace and stability of Southeast Asia, which was a victim of big power rivalry during the period of the Cold War, and US military intervention in Vietnam.
Human rights abuses as in Myanmar have raised questions about the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states. As Khoo states, “[T] he non-interference principle is being increasingly questioned through its expanded influence, new challenges arising from globalisation processes, and most importantly, the increasing need to focus on human security.” Some have argued that ASEAN needs to rethink about this principle.
By all means do that since times have changed. But I am of the view that there is a strong case to ensure that non-interference continues to be the principle guiding relations between members, and with other states.
In the Rohingya case, ASEAN must create first create mechanisms to deal with the humanitarian crisis promptly so that lives are not lost.That includes the creation of a Rapid Deployment Force of Naval, Police and Immigration personnel to undertake search and rescue operation to save lives and deal with syndicates engaged in human trafficking.
At present, the problem is left in the hands of littoral states like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand while Myanmar, the perpetrator, is allowed to pursue ethnic cleaning. Surely, the military junta must be held to account for allowing Buddhist monks to commit wanton acts on violence against a minority community with a view to exterminating them. Second, in the spirit of ASEAN cooperation, Myanmar must stop the flow of refugees and provide food and shelter and a safe haven for those who remain and others who will be repatriated.
This will give time for a lasting political solution to be found regarding the status of the Rohingyas in their homeland. Third, the United Nations and ASEAN diplomats led by Malaysia as the 2015 ASEAN chair, and others like China, India, the European Union and the US can nudge Myanmar along the process towards national reconciliation.
This is the time for urgent and decisive action. Forcing Myanmar out of ASEAN is not an option. Instead, ASEAN needs to engage in a consultative dialogue with the military junta towards finding a lasting solution to the Rohingya issue.–Din Merican
*Din Merican is Associate Dean, Techo Sen (Hun Sen) School of Government and International Relations, University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. The views expressed in this commentary are his own and do not in any way implicate his organisation.
The Dilemma of Non-Interference in ASEAN
by Khoo Ying Hooi @www.themalaysianinsider.com
Ying Hooi is attached with a local university. Her research interests cover the fields of civil society, social movements, protests, political participation, human rights and democratization.
Recently, the international community was shocked when boats filled with 2,000 ethnic Rohingya arrived in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. About 8,000 Rohingya are reportedly still adrift at sea following a crackdown on human trafficking syndicates.
The humanitarian crisis casts the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in a negative light. The incident has also revealed the core of many problems in Asean itself, that is the immense pressure on the regional bloc to rethink its principle of non-interference in internal affairs of neighbouring states.
The non-interference principle is being increasingly questioned through its expanded influence, new challenges arising from globalisation processes, and most importantly, the increasing need to focus on human security.
According to the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on a People-Oriented, People-Centred ASEAN adopted at the 26th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur on April 27, ASEAN leaders agreed to “continue establishing a people-oriented, people-centred and rules-based ASEAN community where all people, stakeholders and sectors of society can contribute to and enjoy the benefits from a more integrated and connected community encompassing enhanced cooperation in the political-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars for sustainable, equitable and inclusive development”.
Under the sub-topic on socio-cultural, the declaration stated: “Promote and protect the rights of women, children, youth and elderly persons as well as those of migrant workers, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, ethnic minority groups, people in vulnerable situations and marginalised groups, and promote their interests and welfare in Asean’s future agenda including through the ASEAN community’s post-2015 vision and its attendant documents”.
Less than a month after the adoption of the declaration, the plight of the Rohingya blew up.The Rohingya crisis is not a new problem in ASEAN. For decades, ASEAN has turned a blind eye to the fate of the Rohingya, one of the world’s most vulnerable minorities.
In my previous article entitled, “An ASEAN detached from its peoples” derived from my reflections after attending the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Assembly (ACSC/ APF), I said that what is seriously lacking in ASEAN is not declarations or statements, but fundamental issues such as people’s access to land and resources as well as minority rights for those such as the Rohingya.
Critics have long voiced doubts over ASEAN’s ambition for closer integration, known as the ASEAN Community, given the grouping’s sacred stance on sovereignty. The Rohingya crisis comes as a real test of the degree to which ASEAN member states take seriously their commitment to regional cooperation on protecting human rights as enshrined in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.
The reluctance of Myanmar to openly discuss the issue is a clear obstacle for ASEAN to further develop a joint position. However, on the other hand, it is a moral obligation of Asean member states to find ways for a sustainable solution to the long-standing Rohingya issue by ensuring it is on the agenda of ASEAN meetings.
The Rohingya crisis has raised the pragmatism of ASEAN’s non-interference principle. At this crucial year of 2015, the deadline for the three pillars under the ASEAN community, ASEAN is fully aware that the issue could imperil the group’s stability in the region.
Although Myanmar is primarily responsible for the influx of Rohingya refugees, ASEAN has no choice but to go beyond its non-interference principle in order to maintain peace and stability in the region. Otherwise, silence on the issue could undermine ASEAN’s goal of achieving peaceful economic development in the long-term.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.