Evaluation by the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation


  1. Introduction  

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is an intergovernmental organization that brings together ten nations in Southeast Asia.[1] Myanmar, which is included among these ten nations, is part of the ASEAN mission focusing mainly on economic trade. ASEAN’s response to Myanmar since the February 2021 coup has been mixed. In 2021, Brunei was the Chair of ASEAN. Brunei called for dialogue, reconciliation, and a return to normalcy.[2] Later on that year, Brunei symbolically banned the junta from attending ASEAN summit meetings and invited a “non-political” representative.[3] However, things were different when Cambodia was the ASEAN Chair in 2022. Cambodia called for the parties in Myanmar to exercise “restraint” and cease fighting. Reportedly, Cambodia was the first country to visit with the junta and hold talks despite the violence perpetrated by the military junta towards innocent civilians.[4] The current chair for ASEAN, which is a rotating chairmanship, is Indonesia. To date, Indonesia has reported over 110 engagements with Myanmar hoping to implement the 5-point ASEAN plan.[5]

While the February 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar continues to be among ASEAN’s challenges, ASEAN must not also forget its commitment to the Rakhine and the repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to the Rakhine from countries such as Bangladesh. This brief explores ASEAN’s approach and provides the ASEAN approach can be strengthened, given the fact that the Rohingya refugee situation and the violence in Arakan, not only impact Bangladesh but ASEAN member countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

ASEAN’s approach to the challenges in the Rakhine and the crisis in Myanmar has been a three-step process. First, ASEAN launched the Preliminary Needs Assessment recommendations. The second step was to conduct a Comprehensive Needs Assessment (CNA) in order to help with the repatriation process. The final step which was initiated after the February 2021 coup, was the 5-point consensus. ARNO’s position is that while these initiatives appear to be strong responses, they have become nothing more than words on paper, appearing to need enforcement and commitment to their implementation.

The Asia Pacific Centre – Responsibility to Protect provided a report on ASEAN’s response to the Rohingya 2017 genocidal purge.[6]  ARNO has constructed a timeline of ASEAN’s engagement based on this report.

  • December 2016 – Indonesia meets with Aung San Suu Kyi in order to discuss Rohingya “boat crisis.” This was not an ASEAN meeting.
  • September 23, 2017 – (Philippines) Chairman’s Statement on the Humanitarian Situation in Rakhine.
  • September – October 2017 – Malaysia disassociates itself from the ASEAN Chairman’s statement because it did not mention the Rohingya.
  • September 2017 – Indonesia meets again with Aung San Suu Kyi regarding crisis in Arakan. This was not an ASEAN meeting.
  • October 19, 2017 – 6th meeting of Conference of Parties on Disaster Management, ASEAN notes Rohingya situation is a humanitarian disaster mandating that AHA act. All aid delivered by AHA was apparently only done with the consent of Myanmar.
  • November 2018 – ASEAN agenda had Rohingya crisis, but November 2018 Summit determined a need to talk to the people and see what more could be done.
  • March 2019- PNA was conducted by ERAT team. The report received criticism from Rohingya groups because it did not take a human rights approach.
  • November 2019 – ASEAN decides to form an implementation team of the PNA.
  • February 2020 – ASEAN’s Ad-Hoc Support Team (AHAST), with the concept of Myanmar, identified 30 possible projects.

2. Preliminary Needs Assessment (PNA)

After the November 13, 2018 meeting, ASEAN determined to “support Myanmar in its repatriation process.”[7] The ASEAN Secretariat went to Myanmar from March 4-13, 2019. The purpose of the Preliminary Needs Assessment (PNA) was to identify whether 1) reception and transit centers were ready and 2) determine if potential relocation sites were identified by Myanmar.[8]

The Assessment identified two reception centers: Nga Khu Ra and Taung Pyo Letwe and one transit center: Pheo Kaung was prepared by the Government of Myanmar in 2018.[9] The verification process depicted[10] in the PNA is as follows:

The PNA reported that local communities in the Rakhine “felt safe” with the Border Guard Police in the area and that they would work towards peace-building measures.  The remainder of the PNA assesses the need for improvements to some of the processes outlined.

3. Comprehensive Needs Assessment (CNA) 

The CNA was “scheduled to be undertaken in 2021 and its terms of reference was to be finalized by March 2021. But the military coup d’état and detention of top political figures in February have put paid to any hope that the CNA timetable and the AHAST projects would be on track.”[11]

4. Five Point Consensus (5PC)

ASEAN adopted the “Five-point consensus” (5PC) shortly after the February 1, 2021 coup. The 5PC has been presented as follows:

  • First, there shall be immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties shall exercise utmost restraint.
  • Second, constructive dialogue among all parties concerned shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.
  • Third, a special envoy of the ASEAN Chair shall facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the Secretary General of ASEAN.
  • Fourth, ASEAN shall provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre.
  • Fifth, the special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.

Shortly after adopting the 5PC, a review was conducted by ASEAN and in November 2022, ASEAN noted that while “little progress” has been made on the 5PC, ASEAN remains committed to the implementation of the 5PC in its entirety and a “implementation plan that outlines concrete, practical and measurable indicators with specific timeline to support the Five-Point Consensus.”[12] A few days later the State Administrative Council (SAC) in Myanmar “rejected” the review. The SAC indicated one of the reasons for the rejection was because the review did not reflect what was happening “on the ground.”[13]

5. ARNO Recommendations

ARNO recommends the following actions with regard to the 5PC:

  • ASEAN should request that countries which have sanctioned Myanmar condition some of those sanctions on proof of effective and durable implementation to the 5PC.
  • ASEAN should enforce the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration by integrating this commitment into future CNA processes.
  • ASEAN should evaluate the needs of countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia with regards to the Rohingya crisis and clearly outline a plan for the safe, voluntary, and dignified of refugees.
  • ASEAN should enforce its “ASEAN Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children” with prosecutions of perpetrators of trafficking and smuggling.

[1] ASEAN philosophically has two approaches that are worth noting. The first is its policy of non-interference and the second is the “ASEAN Way” which relies on consensus building.  Further explanation on “ASEAN Way” can be found at: APC-R2P, “ASEAN and the Rohingya Crisis since 2017: Dynamic, Challenges, a New Avenues for a More Effective Regional Response in Post-Coup Myanmar” March 2022, https://r2pasiapacific.org/files/9005/2022_ASEAN__Rohingya_Crisis_Since_2017.pdf.

[2] CNA News, “ASEAN Chair Brunei calls for ‘dialogue, reconciliation and return to normalcy’ in Myanmar,” February 1, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/asia/myanmar-asean-aung-san-suu-kyi-military-coup-296211.

[3] Reuters, “ASEAN excludes Myanmar junta leader from summit in rare move,” October 16, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/asean-chair-brunei-confirms-junta-leader-not-invited-summit-2021-10-16/.

[4] The Irrawaddy, “Right to the End, Cambodia Fails Myanmar’s People as ASEAN Chair,” October 26, 2022, https://www.irrawaddy.com/opinion/commentary/right-to-the-end-cambodia-fails-myanmars-people-as-asean-chair.html.

[5] The Diplomat, “Indonesia Claims continued Myanmar Progress Ahead of Key ASEAN Meeting,” July 10, 2023, https://thediplomat.com/2023/07/indonesia-claims-continued-myanmar-progress-ahead-of-key-asean-meeting/.

[6] APC-R2P, “ASEAN and the Rohingya Crisis since 2017: Dynamic, Challenges, a New Avenues for a More Effective Regional Response in Post- Coup Myanmar” March 2022, https://r2pasiapacific.org/files/9005/2022_ASEAN__Rohingya_Crisis_Since_2017.pdf.

[7] ASEAN, Preliminary Needs Assessment for Repatriation, pg. 2. It should be noted that the PNA does not mention the Rohingya as the group of refugees. ASEAN claims to have been “fair and neutral” in its approach to the report.

[8] Id.

[9] Ibid, pg. 3.

[10] Ibid, pg. 5.

[11] APC-R2P, “ASEAN and the Rohingya Crisis since 2017: Dynamic, Challenges, a New Avenues for a More Effective Regional Response in Post- Coup Myanmar” March 2022, pg. 5 https://r2pasiapacific.org/files/9005/2022_ASEAN__Rohingya_Crisis_Since_2017.pdf.

[12] ASEAN, “ASEAN Leader’s Review and Decision on the Implementation of the Five-Point Consensus” November 11, 2022, https://asean.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/06-ASEAN-Leaders-Review-and-Decision-on-the-Implementation-of-the-Five-Point-Consensus_fin.pdf.

[13] MITV, “MOFA PRESS RELEASE: MYANMAR REJECTS ASEAN LEADERS’ REVIEW & DECISION” November 22, 2022, https://www.myanmaritv.com/news/mofa-press-release-myanmar-rejects-asean-leaders%E2%80%99-review-decision.