Jakarta 11 August, 2023: A leading Burmese Human Rights organisation and a group of lawyers from the Philippines and Indonesia have presented a petition to the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta demanding accountability and justice for the people of Myanmar.
The main complainant, Salai Za Uk, Deputy Director of the Chin Human Rights Organisation, (CHRO) urged ASEAN to establish a permanent office for its Envoy to Myanmar. “The current ‘revolving door’ policy where there is a new ASEAN envoy every year, allows the junta to run rings around the Association. We need a permanent office for an ASEAN envoy that is permanently focused on Myanmar, monitoring the situation there on a long-term basis, tracking crimes and coming up with innovative ideas to promote justice, peace and stability.”
The ASEAN petition follows a new report by the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), which says there is “strong evidence” that the Myanmar military has committed three types of war crimes with increasing frequency and brazenness: indiscriminate or disproportionate targeting of civilians using bombs; killings of civilians or combatants detained during operations including in mass executions; and large-scale and intentional burning of civilian dwellings and other civilian buildings.
Filipino lawyer, Romel Bagares called for ASEAN, “To establish a functioning mechanism for individual complaints. In addition, we’d like to see a fact-finding mission regarding alleged war crimes and other international crimes in Myanmar; and, further down the road, a regional criminal tribunal, or a comparable justice process, to hold perpetrators accountable. We believe ASEAN is in the best position to address human rights issues within the ASEAN community.”
His colleague Gilbert Andres, a leading human rights lawyer in Manila, said “According to the United Nations Office High Commissioner for Human Rights, since the coup over two years ago, the Myanmar military’s ‘four cuts’ strategy has resulted in at least 3,452 persons killed and 21,807 persons arrested. The Myanmar military has targeted civilians with airstrikes and artillery shells, has burned or destroyed about 60,000 civilian strictures including churches, and internally displaced about 1.5 million people. The Myanmar military is literally waging war against its civilian population and is committing gross human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity on a daily basis. ASEAN must establish effective human rights mechanisms for the protection of its own community, such as the people of Myanmar.”
Both Filipino lawyers have extensive experience litigating human rights cases in the Philippines and also teach international law in a number of Philippine law schools.
Khin Ohmar, a long-term Myanmar human rights activist, said, “As a survivor of the military’s massacre of over 3,000 peaceful protestors during the 1988 democracy movement, I welcome this historic petition to ASEAN. The Myanmar military’s enjoyment of blanket impunity for decades of gross crimes is emboldened by ASEAN and the UN’s inaction, while domestic justice mechanisms have all been weaponized by the military. Only by holding the military to account will atrocities stop. It is past time ASEAN and the international community corrected their course and take actions to achieve justice and accountability for the people of Myanmar.”
The petition to ASEAN was also signed by Feri Amsari and Shaleh Al-Ghifari of Themis Indonesia, who recently initiated proceedings against the Myanmar junta at Indonesia’s Constitutional Court. Amsari said, “The Constitutional Court made clear to us that it supported universal jurisdiction and regional approaches to accountability in Myanmar and that is precisely what we are proposing: a regional solution to a regional crisis. ASEAN must live up to the promise of its charter and not abandon the people of Myanmar in their hour of need.”
A number of legal cases against the Myanmar junta are being initiated in jurisdictions across South East Asia. According to Chris Gunness, Director of the Myanmar Accountability Project which is supporting this work, “Universal jurisdiction is a firmly established principle in international law and ASEAN states accept the validity and importance of universal jurisdiction. ASEAN as a regional organization is well placed to coordinate action in response to core international crimes attracting universal jurisdiction and contributing to customary international law.”
The full version of the petition to ASEAN is available at the following link: Myanmar Communication-ASEAN AND AICHR-2023.10.08v4 (the-world-is-watching.org)
CHRO is a non-governmental organization in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 2018. It works to protect and promote human rights through monitoring, documentation, education and advocacy on behalf of indigenous Chin people and other oppressed and marginalized communities in Myanmar.