YB MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
AT THE ASEAN FOREIGN MINISTERS’ RETREAT
19 DECEMBER 2016
Thank you Mr. Chairman,
I take note of the briefing by Her Excellency Daw Aung San Suu Kyi [Dor-aong-san-su-chi] on the latest development on the situation in the Northern Rakhine State. As a close neighbour and partner of Myanmar, we follow closely the developments in that area, particularly on the plight of the ethnic Rohingya. It is timely that we are given the opportunity to meet and discuss this important issue.
When I proposed for the convening of a meeting among us, through our Chair, it was with a genuine intention to assist Myanmar collectively to address the challenges that it is facing in resolving this issue.
Our hope is that, an open and frank discussion among friends, could help us better understand the issue that Myanmar is facing and from thereon, we could find a sustainable and long-term solution to the issue at hand.
We note the steps taken by Myanmar in its investigation to the incident that occurred in Maungdaw Township in early October this year. We also note the necessary measures taken by Myanmar to investigate the cause of the occurrence of violence in the affected areas.
These include the establishment of the Central Committee for the Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development (PSCD) in the Rakhine State, the Rakhine State Advisory Commission, a collaborative efforts by the Government and the Kofi Annan Foundation, and the subsequent establishment of the Investigation Commission.
While acknowledging the initiatives taken by the Government of Myanmar in trying to improve the situation on the ground, progress have been rather slow, especially in improving the basic human rights of the Rohingya ethnic minority in the Rakhine State.
There continue to be reports from many sources alleging arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings including of children, rape by soldiers, burning of Rohingya villages as well as destruction of homes and places of worship. It is troubling that these alleged violations occurred in the context of security operations conducted by Government authorities.
Time and again, my Government has expressed our grave concern on the continued violence in the northern Rakhine State that has resulted in the loss of innocent lives and the displacement of people. Widespread panic, fear and insecurity had resulted in more people fleeing the country and head for neighbouring countries, including Malaysia.
We believe that in order to dispel these allegations of ‘ethnic cleansing’ or in some cases ‘genocide’, it is incumbent upon the Government to be transparent and to provide timely and accurate information as well as provide access to the affected areas.
As all of us are aware, Malaysia, as well as some other neighbouring countries, have had to deal with the influx of irregular movement of people, especially the Rohingyas, over the past few years. Malaysia is currently hosting around 56,000 displaced ethnic Rohingyas men, women and children, who had fled the affected areas of the Rakhine State.
The Government of Malaysia is under constant pressure from our people who are very sympathetic to the plight and sufferings of Rohingya. The Government also had to bear huge financial burden in providing shelters and basic necessities to these people. Although Malaysia is not a party to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, Malaysia has been consistently providing assistance to the Rohingya on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Just last year, when there was a dire humanitarian situation in the Andaman Sea, Malaysia along with Indonesia and Thailand stepped in to assist those in need. The three of us met in Putrajaya to discuss and resolve this issue. The outcome of the meeting saw our agreement to provide humanitarian assistance and temporary shelter to the 7000 boat people stranded along the three countries’ maritime border. Thereafter, I went to Nay Pyi Tay where I had fruitful and constructive discussion with His Excellency U Wunna Maung Lwin former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar to address this issue.
I believe all of us do not wish to see the repeat of this crisis which could potentially impact the security and stability of the region.
It is due to this reason that we believe that the situation is now of a regional concern and should be resolved together.
It is also our belief that we should not look at this issue from a religious point of the view but as a serious humanitarian concern that should be addressed urgently.
Malaysia is not alone in expressing this concern. Our views are shared by Mr. Vijay Nambiar, the Special Advisor of the UNSG. He has stated that, following the visit by nine foreign Ambassadors and the UN Resident Coordinator to the affected areas, various UN agencies have voiced concerns at the deteriorating human rights situation in the Northern Rakhine State.
We also agree with him that Myanmar must take steps to build confidence and reassurance among the local population, and to also protect all residents regardless of their ethnicity, religious belief or status. Although Myanmar may not recognise the Rohingya as its citizen, we must not forget that they too deserve basic human rights. Thus we believe that fundamental civil, economic, social and cultural rights must be provided to all those who reside in the Rakhine State regardless of their ethnicity, race or religion.
From the investigations that the Government of Myanmar has conducted, as we understand it, it was revealed that the violent attacks were organised by a terrorist organisation believed to be linked and trained by the Taliban. If this allegation is true, then we should be conscious that there are possibilities that the ISIS could be taking advantage of this situation. Again, this is an issue that concerns us as a region. The act of terrorism should be condemned and ASEAN should be at the forefront of fighting terrorism to ensure peace and stability in the region.
However, I am of the view that while taking the necessary security measures to curb any fresh outbreak of attacks by criminal elements in the area, the authorities in Myanmar must also take steps in protecting the local population regardless of their ethnicity or religious belief. Allegations of human rights violations especially against some of the population in the Rakhine State must be investigated.
Mr. Kofi Annan, during his first visit to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, in September 2016 said, and I quote “To build the future, the two major communities have to move beyond decades of mistrust and find ways to embrace shared values of justice, fairness and equity”.
Malaysia therefore urges the Government of Myanmar to take all the necessary steps to restore peace and stability in the affected areas. We hope that the Government of Myanmar would be able to deal with the situation in a fair and just manner, according to the international principles on the protection of human rights which are also enshrined in the ASEAN Charter and the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.
In this regard, allow me to propose some recommendations for the consideration of the Government of Myanmar on the way forward to address this issue:
i)Firstly, I believe the most urgent matter is the humanitarian conditions of the people in the affected areas. Like others, we call for an unimpeded humanitarian access to the affected areas. Mr. Kofi Annan during his visit to the affected areas in early December 2016 has also emphasised on this. Our humanitarian NGOs are ready to channel humanitarian assistance to the Government of Myanmar.
We further propose that ASEAN coordinates the humanitarian assistance to the Rakhine State, as what we have done during cyclone Nargis in 2008. The international humanitarian organisations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) should also be given full access to the affected areas in order to assess the situation there and assist in providing the necessary humanitarian aid;
ii)Secondly, in order to assist us to formulate a sustainable and long-term solution to the situation in the Northern Rakhine State, I propose that ASEAN establishes an independent group of experts or an eminent persons group to investigate and verify the situation in the Rakhine State. This independent group will then provide recommendations to us on the way forward. I believe that in the spirit of maintaining ASEAN Centrality and cohesiveness, we have to address this issue collectively.
We acknowledge that the issue that Myanmar is facing is very complex and difficult. This notwithstanding, my Government strongly believes that Myanmar must do more in trying to address the root causes of this problem.
I believe that Her Excellency Daw Aung Suu Kyi’s promise to address the root causes affecting the local population, namely that of citizenship and status, and to provide relief to the internally displaced persons since 2012, would go a long way in relieving tension and promote realistic and sustainable solutions. I hope that Her Excellency would take into accounts the concerns of your ASEAN friends and the international community.
I also hope that the Government of Myanmar would take on board the various recommendations put forward by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers. I believe that in order to reassure the international community, a statement could be issued by the Government of Myanmar on the way forward as proposed by the ASEAN Member States.
On the part of Malaysia, we will continue to voice our concerns as well as extend the necessary assistance to Myanmar through various platforms, either bilaterally or through ASEAN, OIC, United Nations and other relevant platforms.
Before I end my statement, I would like to again mention that Malaysia highly values its relationship with Myanmar and is supportive of Myanmar’s transition process towards achieving a more democratic, economically developed and socially-inclusive country. Malaysia also stands ready to assist the NLD-led government in its ongoing national peace and reconciliation efforts which are vital for the peace and stability of Myanmar as well as for our region as a whole.
We hope our comments and recommendations would be taken seriously by the Government of Myanmar. We are brothers and sisters in the ASEAN Community, in which we have committed ourselves to advancing ASEAN’s goal of lasting peace, security and stability, sustained economic growth and shared prosperity and social progress.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia