22 April 2021
Open Letter to ASEAN Leaders: Recommendations from CSOs in Myanmar and in Southeast Asia to the ASEAN Special Summit on Myanmar
To: Leaders of the Member States of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
In alignment with the upcoming special ASEAN Summit on Myanmar on 24 April 2021, we, the undersigned XX civil society organisations in Myanmar and in other Southeast Asian nations, call on the ASEAN, its leaders and Member States to come up with an effective and sustainable strategy jointly with the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and other international community actors when addressing the illegitimate and brutal coup and atrocity crimes committed by the military junta in Myanmar.
We welcome the decision to hold the ASEAN Special Summit on Myanmar, based on the proposal made by President Joko Widodo of the Republic of Indonesia to discuss the worsening situation in Myanmar following the violent crackdowns against peaceful protesters and the terror campaign against civilians launched by the junta. The decision which hopefully constitutes a precedent and reflects the commitment of ASEAN Member States leaders to address Myanmar’s appalling situation using its highest-level policy-making body.
However, in view of ASEAN Member States’ differing position on the coup in Myanmar, we remain concerned that the ASEAN Summit’s response will be to consider the crisis as being within Myanmar’s domestic affairs and therefore deciding to refrain from any meaningful action in line with the “ASEAN Way” of non-interference and overzealous respect for state sovereignty.
The differing positions of ASEAN Member States has made it difficult for ASEAN to reach a consensus and resulted in equivocations and delayed responses from ASEAN, while the military junta continued its deliberate, murderous attacks on Myanmar’s people, much to our sorrow and anger. As evidenced from the outputs produced by the Informal ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting (IAFMM), ASEAN responses fall well short of meeting the will of the people of Myanmar. The chair statement of IAFMM meeting neither specifically publicly called out the junta’s brutality nor called for stronger cooperation with the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council. Further, it also fails to mention ASEAN’s commitment to supporting targeted economic sanctions against military personnel and business and global arms embargo and referral of Myanmar situation to International Criminal Court (ICC).
With the different interest and political will of ASEAN Member States at the moment, we are concerned to what extent the ASEAN Special Summit can create an immediate and meaningful intervention to resolve the situation of Myanmar. ASEAN’s collective and meaningful action to uphold democracy is warranted at this time. Any decision by the ASEAN Leaders to treat the military junta as the legitimate representative of Myanmar in the Summit will serve to legitimize the military junta’s crimes and will thus damage not only the relationship of ASEAN with the people of Myanmar but the movement for democracy and human rights in the region as a whole.
Further, The ASEAN and its Member States must recognise the legitimacy of the National Unity Government, the legitimate and democratically-elected government of Myanmar, given that it represents the 76% of elected Member of Union Parliament, ethnic leaders, the civil disobedience movement, and general strike committees endorsed by the people of Myanmar. Therefore, Myanmar must be represented by the National Unity Government; not by the illegal junta who is trying to take full control of the country through unprecedented brutality.
As we send this letter to the ASEAN Leaders, the violence and killings by the Myanmar military against protesters continue with no sign of abating. The junta have so far arbitrarily arrested 3229 people and killed 737, including women, elderly people and children.1 In Karen and Kachin ethnic areas, the junta has been bombing villages, displacing more than 20,000 villagers. Given the gravity of the situation, the increasing number of victims, and the impact of the crisis on the region’s security and political stability, we urge ASEAN to take firm and effective actions to address the Myanmar coup through the ASEAN Special Summit.
We urge all ASEAN leaders to listen to, to strongly consider, and to heed to the aspirations and will of the peoples of Myanmar. The voices of Myanmar people who have risked their lives in defense for democracy and justice must be the anchor, the conscience, behind any modality and outcome of the ASEAN Special Summit on Myanmar.
Therefore, in solidarity with the peoples of Myanmar, we we call on the ASEAN Leaders to immediately take the following action:
- Reject the presence of illegitimate military junta as the representative of Myanmar in the Summit;
- Give the seat of Myanmar in the ASEAN Summit to its legitimate representative, the National Unity Government;
- Call for all violence against citizens and peaceful demonstrators to cease, for the release of all political prisoners, including human rights defenders, protesters and protest leaders and journalists, and the lifting of all restrictions on the internet and on communications more generally;
- Establish a solid and coordinated response between ASEAN, the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations Human Rights Council with the aim of sending a joint delegation to Myanmar to monitor the situation, stopping the violence and helping negotiate a democratic and human rights-based solution;
- Fully support initiatives by the international community to impose a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions against the military, their personnel and business entities related to them and for the UN Security Council to refer the Myanmar situation to the ICC;
- Ensure access for humanitarian aid and health support to all affected areas in Myanmar including opening cross-border humanitarian aid corridors;
- Put the safety, security, and wellbeing of Myanmar asylum seekers and refugees, including the Rohingya, as one of its priorities;
- ASEAN countries must not return Myanmar migrant workers back home regardless of their status. ASEAN destination countries should extend the Myanmar migrant workers employment contracts for another year or more;
- Take substantial measures against Myanmar, including suspending Myanmar’s membership of ASEAN. ASEAN shall only lift the suspension once the military junta accepts the authority of National Unity Government, the military places itself fully, permanently and unconditionally under NUG control, the junta is brought to the ICC, and the democracy is fully established.
Only by moving beyond the “ASEAN Way” of consensus and non-interference can ASEAN intervene in the Myanmar situation in a meaningful and robust way. Myanmar is on the verge of becoming a failed state., and it is in ASEAN’s best interest to take a firm stance on these urgent and distressful developments. Failure to do so risks not only further damaging ASEAN’s reputation as an effective regional body that can meaningfully contribute to a solid, just, humane and viable community of nations but will undermine ASEAN’s efforts to achieve its vision and mission of community building.
1 Data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) as of 18 April 2021
After being accused of inflating the fatality lists, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said it can totally guarantee the death toll it has documented.
AAPP, a human rights organization founded in 2000, has been documenting the fatalities and arrests at the hands of the military regime’s forces following the Feb. 1coup.
Citing the records of its police force, the military regime said via state-owned television and newspapers on Monday and Tuesday that only 258 people were killed between Feb. 1 and April. 15.
Meanwhile, the AAPP announced that a total of 726 people have been killed by the junta.
The junta also maintained that of its total of 258, 247 were killed during counter-attacks by the regime’s forces when they were assaulted while removing roadblocks.
The other 11 died under different circumstances, the regime said.
The military regime also denied responsibility for the death of 20-year-old high school student Ma Mya Thwet Thwet Khine, who was hit with a live bullet in Naypyitaw on Feb. 10, when riot police dispersed protesters.
It also denied responsibility for killing a 19-year-old girl, Kyal Sin, who was shot in the head during a crackdown on an anti-regime protest in Mandalay in March.
The regime said in state-run newspapers on Tuesday that both girls died because protesters were shooting at each other.
The military regime also claimed that the AAPP had listed 76 more fatalities in Bago on April 9 without having any personal information.
The regime said that only four “rioters”—the military’s euphemism for anti-regime protesters—were killed and 36 were arrested during the April 9 raids at Bago, which is 98 kilometers from Yangon.
About 4 a.m. that day, more than 250 of the military regime’s troops launched attacks on four residential wards—Shinsawpu, Hmawkan, Nantawyar and Ponnasu—which are anti-regime strongholds in Bago.
While trying to remove roadblocks erected with sandbags by the anti-regime protesters to protect the protest assembly areas, troops opened fire with automatic weapons and heavy explosives against defense team members and night watchmen guarding the areas.
Photos also show the tail of a rifle grenade and some unexploded rifle grenades found by local residents.
The junta’s troops deployed in the wards for days, and all entrances into the wards were closed with police lines. The forces continued shooting in the wards until April 11, according to a Bago resident.
The wards were deserted as no one dared to go outside, and many of residents had fled their homes.
No ambulances and social organizations giving medical assistance and free funeral services were able to go into the wards to pick up the dead or give medical treatment to the wounded.
U San Min, who is in charge of the documentation and research department of AAPP, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the regime’s forces have destroyed all trace of evidence on the massacre in Bago on April 9.
However, the AAPP has received the personal information on 27 out of the 82 killed by the junta’s troops in Bago that day, he added.
AAPP also said that they are still verifying the personal information on the other 55 killed.
According to U San Min, AAPP is documenting all deaths caused by the regime’s forces during their raids, crackdowns, interrogation and shootings, verifying each case.
“We have listed the death toll thoroughly. So, the numbers will never be inflated. Actually, the numbers are believed to be higher than the recorded lists as there are many cases [in which] we don’t have information,” U San Min said.
As of Monday, nearly 740 people have been killed by the junta’s forces during their raids, crackdowns, arrested and random shooting.
Those killed are included anti-regime protesters, NLD party members, bystanders, pedestrians and civilians, said AAPP.
More than 3,200 people including elected leaders, NLD party members, election commissioners, doctors, protesters, journalists, writers, artists and civilian have been detained.
In spite of the killings and arrests, tens of thousands of people across Myanmar continue to take to the streets to protest against the military rule.
Myanmar’s regime has been killing and detaining those who oppose military rule. On April 17, as Myanmar marked its new year, junta forces detained six people from No. 4 Ward in Yankin Township, Yangon.
The military-run media reported that arms, including homemade bombs, were seized with the six detainees. It broadcast photos suggesting they had been badly beaten.
The Irrawaddy interviewed Daw Hla Hla Soe, the mother of one of the detainees, Ma Khin Nyein Thu, 31.
How was Ma Khin Nyein Thu held?
I don’t live with my daughter so I only know what her neighbors told me. Police and soldiers arrived on Saturday night and searched homes in their neighborhood. My daughter and five others were detained.
What is Ma Khin Nyein Thu’s stance?
It is like many other people. She is demanding democracy.
We heard Ma Khin Nyein Thu studied abroad. When did she arrive back in Myanmar?
She studied in the UK for around five years, specializing in performance art. She arrived back nearly seven years ago.
The Myawaddy and MRTV channels suggested they had been severely beaten. What do you want to say about it as a mother?
I didn’t watch the broadcasts. But I can feel what she is going through now. I am a Christian and I believe in God. I am praying for her. I don’t expect much but I want her to live. I am praying for all of them to be saved by God.
What do you want to say about the torture?
It is unacceptable. I heard that they were sent from Yankin police station to the Shwepyithar detention center, which is a tough place. They may suffer there. After interrogation, I heard they will probably be sent to Insein Prison. I wish they will be released and receive medical treatment.
I wish God hears my prayers. My thoughts are with the suffering hearts of other parents.
If you didn’t see the broadcast, have you seen your daughter’s face?
I saw her at the police station on April 18. One of her friends informed me about her abduction. I couldn’t go out that night due to the curfew. So the following day, I waited outside Yankin police station. I saw her coming out with two police officers.
I shouted to her and as she turned around and I saw her face. I felt her pain. She could not walk well. I heard the torture is tougher in Shwepyithar and I fear she is suffering now. I don’t want to see the photos. My daughter’s home is close to the police station so I rushed there whenever I heard she was being transferred [to Shwepyithar].
Had Ma Khin Nyein Thu already been tortured at the police station?
Her face was quite swollen that morning. I could only see her from a distance. She could only walk slowly and her face was swollen.
They were transferred on Sunday afternoon. She called me from the police station, saying they would be transferred to Insein. But I heard they were sent to Shwepyithar. I went to Insein Prison on Monday and was told they weren’t there.
The bodies of the couple, who were parents to three children, were found in a ditch, locals say
A couple was shot and killed by regime troops in the Indian-Sagaing border town of Tamu on Tuesday morning, and their bodies later discovered in a roadside ditch, residents told Myanmar Now.
Kishan Goutam and Harimaya Goutam were on their motorbike when they were shot on the Pahe Bridge, locals said.
The husband and wife belonged to the Myanmar Gurkha community and raised cows for a living. At the time they were killed, they were carrying containers of milk, which it is believed they were going to sell.
“The Gurkha couple had milk and a motorbike, and they were dumped in a ditch,” a resident told Myanmar Now on the condition of anonymity.
Their bodies were picked up by a local relief group and sent to a hospital morgue. The couple were parents, and left behind one daughter and two sons.
Fearing that troops would seize the bodies, the Goutams’ family members held a funeral for the slain couple on Tuesday afternoon in accordance with Nepali Gurkha tradition.
Myanmar Now could not confirm their exact ages at the time of reporting, but Kishan Goutam is believed to have been in his late 40s, and Harimaya Goutam was in her 30s.
On Tuesday afternoon, one woman and three men in Tamu were also arrested by the junta’s armed forces. On Wednesday morning, police and soldiers carried out searches in two wards of the town, according to residents.
“There was no shooting so far this morning. They searched the houses of those who were suspected of joining [anti-coup] protests and activities,” a resident said on Wednesday.
Prior to the murder of the Goutams, five people had been killed by the armed forces in the border town since the February 1 coup.
On April 1, one week after the first casualty in the town was reported, an anti-coup group killed five policemen during an attack on a police outpost. The leader of the group, a local policeman who had defected to the civil disobedience movement, was also killed.
On Saturday, locals ambushed a convoy of junta troops as they were entering the town to suppress protests. Using homemade hunting rifles, they killed at least three soldiers. Two civilians also died in the clash.
One day later, a sniper shot and killed a motorcyclist who was driving past a district police station in the town.
Many Tamu residents have fled to India following the murders, raids and arrests perpetrated by the regime’s troops.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, regime forces have killed more than 700 civilians nationwide since the military seized power.