AUGUST 28 — The Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra) is deeply concerned over the renewed violence affecting the Rohingya Muslim community in Rakhine state in Myanmar which has caused hundreds of innocent lives killed and thousands other to flee to the border with neighbouring Bangladesh, whose border guards are turning them back in breach of international humanitarian principles.
While Asean members continue, disappointingly, to turn a blind eye, even the Pope, Francis I, has condemned the renewed violence and called for an end to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims, which Centhra welcomes.
It must be emphasised that the current crisis in Rakhine state in Myanmar has the potential of unravelling the entire Asean project unless member states deal with it wisely. To this end, two international treaties binding the Asean community as a whole, namely the Asean Charter and the Asean Human Rights Declaration (AHRD).Centhra notes that there have been calls made by certain quarters for the scrapping of the non-interference clause in the Asean Charter in order to allow member states to intervene in Myanmar to stop the collective punishment, persecution, and violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority which Prime Minister Datuk Sri Najib Razak characterised last year as genocide.
Centhra does not dispute that intervention by Asean member states in favour of protecting its ethnic Rohingya Muslims is absolutely necessary and must be undertaken without further delay. In fact, Centhra has repeatedly called for such action to be undertaken in our past press releases on this matter.
However, Centhra believes that simple removal of the clause could have disastrous long-term ramifications for the cohesion and sovereignty of all Asean members, and it should not be expediently discarded on a whim. There is no doubt that the situation in Rakhine is dire; the crisis has far-reaching impact throughout the region, and Asean member states must surely respond.
However, abolishing the non-interference clause in its entirety would be akin to “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. It is an extreme measure that if undertaken would remove a key principle at the heart of the common values Asean members uphold and undermines the principle of state sovereignty, a key feature of international law.
Instead, it is far more responsible to simply amend the Charter to include a crucial qualifier to the effect that the principle of non-interference shall apply to general domestic issues only which do not adversely affect other Asean members, and that exceptions be made in matters relating to grave human rights violations, humanitarian concerns, war crimes and crimes against humanity, of which the Rohingya Muslim crisis certainly qualifies.
Indeed such an amendment would harmonise and further the commitment made by member states to uphold not only the Asean Human Rights Declaration agreed in 2012, but also other applicable international human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam 1990, as well as the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons 1954 and the Geneva Conventions 1949, which protect civilians and refugees fleeing state-sponsored violence. Indeed the Rohingya Muslim community are in dire need of the protection these instruments offer, now more than ever.
Centhra calls upon all Asean member states as well as Bangladesh to do what is conscionable, just and humane with respect to the on-going grave human rights violations in Myanmar by further applying political pressure and if need be, economic sanctions on the Burmese regime to force the recension of its constant attacks on the Rohingya Muslim minority, protect civilians fleeing Burmese violence by offering refuge to Rohingya Muslim refugees and ascend to all human rights treaties protecting refugees and stateless persons.
* This article was written by Azril Mohd Amin, lawyer and chief executive of the Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra)