The U.N. human rights chief pressed ASEAN on Wednesday to urgently appoint an envoy to Myanmar, with the regional bloc having not yet named a special emissary more than two months after Southeast Asian leaders agreed to do so.
Separately, Singapore said it was working with other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to hasten the admittedly slow implementation of a five-point consensus on post-coup Myanmar that ASEAN leaders had reached during a special summit on that troubled country in late April.
ASEAN should start a dialogue with both the military, which toppled an elected government in February, and that country’s shadow civilian government, said Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“It is urgent for ASEAN to appoint a special envoy or team to get some kind of political dialogue underway,” Bachelet said in videotaped comments during a meeting at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“I encourage ASEAN to engage with the democratic leadership and civil society, not just the military front.”
It was the second time in a month that Bachelet had urged the Southeast Asian bloc to move more quickly in helping resolve a post-coup crisis in Myanmar.
On Wednesday, Bachelet said she had been engaging closely with most ASEAN states, and while she was encouraged by the five-point consensus, the Myanmar leadership had “unfortunately … shown little sign of abiding by it.”
Still, it was “very important to back ASEAN with a united front,” she said.
Myanmar is a member of the 10-nation bloc.
Tom Andrews, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, told the meeting that his door was open for the regional bloc and he was “eager to work with a special ASEAN envoy.”
However, the international community as a whole had failed the people of Myanmar with its inability to stop the junta’s “reign of terror,” he said.
Andrews called for the creation of an Emergency Coalition for the People of Myanmar, which would include nations willing to stand with the people of Myanmar through coordinated action.
“It could reduce the junta’s ability to attack its citizens, save the lives of those in acute crisis, and gain political leverage so that the crisis in Myanmar might come to a just and permanent conclusion,” Andrews said.
“But time is short and the stakes could not be higher.”
ASEAN is divided, though, as was clear during a U.N. General Assembly vote last month on the adoption of a resolution on Myanmar. It called on the Burmese military to restore democratic rule, and urged U.N. members to “prevent the flow of arms” to the country, where security forces have killed close to 900 people – mostly protesters – since the Feb. 1 coup.
Four of 10 ASEAN member-states abstained from voting on the resolution. They included Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and this year’s ASEAN chair Brunei.
Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore had earlier expressed their frustration at the delay in the bloc’s naming of an envoy, amid reports of differences between member states on the issue and even on how to deal with Myanmar.
Japan’s Kyodo News reported on Tuesday, without naming sources, that Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia wanted their own nominees to be named envoy.
In written responses to parliamentary questions, Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan acknowledged on Tuesday that ASEAN’s delay in implementing the consensus “has been slow and a little disappointing.”
Still, he told parliament, “[w]e are working within ASEAN to expedite this process” to set Myanmar back on the path of normalcy through negotiations with all stakeholders.
“This will not be an easy or quick process, and its success ultimately lies in the hands of the Myanmar people. Nonetheless, ASEAN will not waver in its commitment to facilitate and support this process in line with the five-point consensus,” Balakrishnan said.
Critics, though, see ASEAN as having lost any momentum it generated at the April 24 summit in Jakarta. The bloc’s collective inaction on Myanmar, in their view, has put ASEAN’s legitimacy at stake, even while the bloc insisted on playing a lead role in a solution there.
Among the critics, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, questioned this notion of ASEAN’s so-called centrality in resolving the Myanmar crisis.
“Why would anyone wait for ASEAN to take the lead in reversing the Myanmar coup when, five months later, ASEAN, hopelessly divided, cannot even agree on a special envoy,” Roth said via Twitter.
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