04/26/2021 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) – Held on Saturday, a special gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) concluded without condemning Myanmar’s military, officially called the Tatmadaw. The Tatmadaw overthrew the democratically elected civilian government on February 1 of this year and has since launched a severe crackdown on civilians including pro-democracy protestors, human rights advocates, and religious minorities.
A joint statement issued by the summit called for an end to the violence in Myanmar, constructive dialogue among the parties involved, acceptance of international aid, the appointment of a special ASEAN envoy to address the situation, and approval for the envoy to visit Myanmar. Notably, the joint statement did not call for the release of the 3,389 political prisoners being held by the Tatmadaw. An earlier version of the statement had included this demand, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The Tatmadaw, which has killed at least 748 civilians since the coup, participated in this weekend’s summit. A parallel government, the National Unity Government (NUG), was formed earlier this month and is composed of pro-democracy figures and representatives from the elected civilian government deposed in February. ASEAN did not invite representatives from the NUG to the summit.
A NUG spokesman welcomed the calls for an end to the violence and called for their immediate implementation. “We look forward to firm action by ASEAN to follow up its decisions and to restore our democracy and freedom.” The spokesman’s statement also referenced the release of political prisoners, on the apparent belief that the ASEAN statement had called for their release.
Others were less positive about the outcome of the ASEAN summit, with one social media user calling it an insult to the victims of the Tatmadaw’s many abuses. “ASEAN’s statement is a slap on the face of the people who have been abused, killed and terrorized [sic] by the military,” the user said. The Tatmadaw’s abuses stretch back decades and include massive campaigns of violence against ethnic and religious minorities.
Historically, ASEAN has been soft on the Tatmadaw and has withheld meaningful support for democracy in Myanmar, according to pro-democracy group 88 Generations Peace and Open Society. “Throughout Myanmar’s struggle for democracy…ASEAN has always sided with the military” it said in a statement.
ASEAN is just part of the international community’s response to the situation in Myanmar. And while this weekend’s summit was a disappointment for proponents of freedom and democracy in Myanmar, other elements of the international community have responded to the crisis more decisively. The international community must stand with Myanmar’s beleaguered civilian population as they strive for peace and justice.
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