ASEAN parliamentarians call for urgent national and regional response to sectarian violence in Myanmar, and independent investigation into Madrasa fire in Yangon
The ASEAN inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) is deeply concerned by reports of violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar and urges the Myanmar Parliament, ASEAN and other interested parties to act immediately to take appropriate measures to seek a long-term solution to inter-communal tensions whilst also protecting communities that remain at risk.
AIPMC condemns all acts of violence regardless of the faith or ethnicity of the perpetrators. AIPMC is extremely concerned by reports of the deaths of at least 13 children in a fire in a Mosque school in Yangon on April 2. The organization made up of elected parliamentarians from across the ASEAN region called for an urgent, thorough and transparent investigation in the cause of the fire.
“If this was arson then justice must be sought and the perpetrators dealt with according to the rule of law; if it was not, then this must be clearly proven to prevent a continued decline in inter-communal relations that threaten the security of all Burmese and the fragile reform process in the country,” Eva Kusuma Sundari, AIPMC President and Indonesian Member of Parliament.
“The Myanmar government must work decisively and justly, with the help of regional neighbours, to end discrimination and combat intolerance among religious groups if we are to avoid a repeat of the violence we saw in Meiktila last month and in Rakhine State before that.”
While the safety of at risk communities remains crucial, AIPMC is also concerned by the imposition of martial law and other draconian measures, and urges the government to find a just a peaceful solution to the recent unrest. The relevant authorities must take immediate steps to investigate the causes and perpetrators of the deadly violence that took place in Meiktila last month and in other areas, and hold to account those responsible.
It is important that the government remain neutral and independent in its response to sectarian conflict and it must work to promote open dialog among relevant parties for a just and sustainable solution that is developed and supported by civilian and community agencies. AIPMC also calls on the Myanmar government to open access to international parties to conflict areas so that humanitarian aid can reach those that need it.
More than 40 people are thought to have been killed and over 60 injured in the violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities in central Myanmar from March 20-22. An estimated 13,000 people, mostly Muslims, have been displaced. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), along with the Myanmar Red Cross Society and other institutions are delivering aid to those affected, but further action is required to prevent a repeat of the sectarian violence seen recently in Meiktila as well as other communities across Myanmar.
AIPMC is particularly concerned with reports of premeditated and orchestrated attacks on Muslim communities, which include the burning of homes, schools, business and religious buildings, and the fanning of religious hatred and acts of incitement to violence. Reports of prominent members of the Buddhist monkhood delivering anti-Muslim sermons and distributing materials calling for boycotts of Muslim businesses and the segregation of Muslim communities is deeply concerning.
AIPMC urges the Myanmar government to work towards mending divides between Buddhist and Muslim communities and investigate and prosecute according to the rule of law those suspected of inciting violence, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations or political or community standing. Within Myanmar, opposition parties, religious and community leaders, and civil society groups all have a role to play in working to stem the tide of violence.
“We would like to see the politicians and community and religious leaders expressing in unison their objection to violence and the need to respect the law. The parliament, both the opposition and the government, should be united in the effort to promote peace and prevent further attacks by tackling the root causes of the problems and holding to account those responsible for the recent violence,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, AIPMC Vice President.
“The devastation caused by violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state last year is still hanging over us and new violence is spreading – we cannot ignore the obvious and considerable risk of further incidents if action is not taken and measures put in place to prevent an escalation of tensions. They need to develop a comprehensive national strategy that promotes reconciliation and tolerance among Buddhist and Muslim communities and upholds international human rights standards – if the Myanmar government cannot do this alone, then ASEAN must also engage in this vital mission.”
Recent upheavals in Myanmar and the failure of ASEAN to respond sufficiently have served to emphasize again ASEAN’s failure to tackle the serious issues that are threatening the future stability of the region. ASEAN, and the international community, have not done enough to support the reform process. By focusing solely on trade and economic agreements in its bid to establish the ASEAN Economic Community the regional grouping is ignoring ethnic and religious divides that this exercise of an economic community will likely exacerbate.
The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration has offered no protection to those communities affected by recent violence in Myanmar and the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and other regional mechanisms remain impotent to trigger the grouping into concrete action.
In Indonesia, tensions persist between Muslim and Christian communities, and in Southern Thailand, as in the Philippines, ethnic and religious tensions have led to decades of brutal conflict that has costs thousands of lives and at times spilled across borders. Ethnic and religions tensions demand the attention of ASEAN – not just in Myanmar but across the region. The potential consequences for ignoring these warning signs are grave.
“You can’t have peaceful economic unity without social justice; human rights must therefore be incorporated into the agenda for maintaining regional growth. A unified, impartial and resolute approach is needed to help mend divides and ensure tensions are reduced, rather than increased, as the region seeks economic unity,” said Ms. Sundari.
“We need to be very clear about the direction we are travelling in and how we are going to get there – if we ignore social justice issues that will inevitably be thrown up by signing trade and economic pacts, rather than becoming a driving global force, ASEAN will become a region beset by conflict within individual member states as well as between them. We must act now to sufficiently integrate human rights and social justice into the ASEAN community framework.”
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The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) is a network formed in an inaugural meeting in Kuala Lumpur, on 26-28 November 2004 by and for parliamentarians from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. The aim is advocating for human rights and democratic reform in Myanmar/Burma. Its members represent both the ruling and non-ruling political parties of countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Cambodia.