Muslim South East Asia NGOs call for Asean to overhaul its security-related policies

Press Release: Bangkok (October 16, 2009): More than 30 Muslim NGO activists and representatives from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Cambodia today gathered in the capital of Thailand to discuss the impact and implications of three conflict-torn regions in Southeast Asia and called for ASEAN and ASEAN member governments to undertake new and renewed efforts to tackle the conflicts.

The two-day gathering entitled “Peoples Call for Justice and Peace”, organised by the Council of Muslim Organizations of Thailand, Citizens International (CI) and the Nusantara Initiatives for Justice and Peace (NADI) and held at the Islamic Centre, Bangkok, focused on the military campaigns, their impact, and the human rights situation of the Rohingyas in Arakan, Myanmar, the Muslims of Yala, Narathiwat, Patani and Satun, and the Bangsamoro of Mindanao, Philippines.

In all of these three conflict zones, millions have been killed, displaced and made refugees either in their own countries or other countries in which they have sought asylum, and/or made to suffer a host of human rights violations for several decades. Generations of Rohingyas, Moros and South Thai Malays are growing up in an environment of violence, deprivation and tragedy.

With the launch of the ‘War on Terror’, these conflicts have been presented and received as part and parcel of the efforts against terrorism and hardline Islamism. As many speakers in the conference noted, however, the decades-long history and contemporary dynamics of all three conflict areas stem from particular, local grievances that have concrete, social, economic, political and civic dimensions and manifestations.

“The three conflicts, involving the issue of the right of self-determination to indigenous communities, have been going on for many years without any resolution and produced serious violation of human rights, socio-economic underdevelopment; waste of valuable and limited resources on trying to find a military solution to the conflict; dislocation, poverty and hardship for millions of people,” Penang-based Citizens International’s executive director Mohideen Abdul Kader said in his presentation.

Mohideen also pointed out that unless the conflicts are tackled and redressed effectively and justly, the worsening and spread of their impacts could spill over national borders.

“They have also created tension between neighboring states which could seriously affect the evolution of the proposed ASEAN Community… The member states, where the conflicts exist, must be made to realise that there can be no peace, security and development without resolving the just claims of those whose right to self-determination has been denied for decades,” Mohideen noted.

Along these lines, the non-interference principle adopted by ASEAN states is long overdue for a overhaul in favour of more effective and relevant policy options while still respecting ASEAN members’ national sovereignty, said Mohideen.

For these and other reasons, the groups called for ASEAN governments to engage with the governments of Myanmar, Thailand and Philippines in putting the point across that the security and situation within their strife-stricken jurisdictions impacts upon the security and situation of the region as a whole.

“We must civilianise the situation, not militarise as has currently been opted,” foremost human rights education and legal expert Dr Vitit Mantraporn said in his remarks, in which he spoke at length also on human rights in the context of security concerns in South Thailand.

The conference ‘The Bangkok Declaration’, which they will submit to the governments of Thailand and other ASEAN member states, that calls on them for them to eschew military options for the resolution of conflict in favour of peaceful and holistic strategies of dispute settlement, socio-economic development and political empowerment.

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