Certain groups and individuals have been spreading the false information that the recent 31st Asean summit and East Asia summit in Manila pointedly skirted the distressing Rohingya crisis (catastrophe) in Myanmar.
They assumed that because Asean grapples with issues by consensus, Rohingya was forgotten in the meetings, and that Myanmar’s generals would, therefore, get away scot-free with their persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority.
None of this happened in the historic international conference that by most accounts was highly successful and responsive to the deepest concerns and priorities of Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific.
The facts from the event prove otherwise, particularly the following:
In Manila, Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi repeatedly faced pressure from her fellow Asean leaders as well as world leaders to explain how her country would solve step by step the Rohingya crisis, and how the displaced minority would be repatriated from Bangladesh to their home region in Myanmar.
Suu Kyi held bilateral meetings with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss the crisis.
Guterres told the Nobel laureate that the displaced Muslims who had fled to Bangladesh should be allowed to return to their homes in Myanmar. Suu Kyi barely escaped a journalist’s question whether the Rohingyas are citizens of Myanmar.
Suu Kyi also held bilateral meetings with other Asia-Pacific leaders and discussed the problem with them. It is fortuitous that Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged during a meeting with her up to 117 billion yen ($1 billion) of development aid to Myanmar to help in alleviating the crisis.
Washington also appears to be leaving its previous skittishness in addressing the situation in Rakhine and criticizing the Burmese leaders.
From Manila, Tillerson flew to the Myanmar capital to hold talks on Wednesday with the Burmese military leader, as well as with Suu Kyi.
During his one-day visit to Myanmar yesterday, Tillerson called for a credible investigation into allegations of human rights abuses against the Rohingyas by the Burmese military. Tillerson met with Suu Kyi again in the Myanmar capital of Naypyitaw; he held separate talks with the head of the Burmese armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
At a joint news conference with Suu Kyi after their meeting, Tillerson said he was deeply concerned by “credible reports” of atrocities committed by Myanmar’s security forces. “Scenes of what occurred are just horrific,” he said.
But he ruled out “broad-based economic sanctions against the entire country,” saying the US would consider individual sanctions against people found responsible for the violence.
“If we have credible information that we believe to be very reliable that certain individuals were responsible for certain acts that we find unacceptable, then targeted sanctions on individuals may very well be appropriate,” he said.
Suu Kyi, for her part, was forthcoming in her talks with Tillerson and others on the sidelines of the Manila summits about the steps that need to be taken to improve the Rohingya situation.
The situation of the Rohingya people is still deplorable; it is an emergency.
But there is hope after Manila for these people who remain stranded in the biggest refugee camp in the world in Bangladesh.