By Adritho Zaifar
As part of ASEAN, Malaysia has an ethical obligation to take in the Rohingya. So far, Malaysia has been reluctant to take them in because the country never signed and ratified the 1951 Convention on Refugee. The 1951 Convention on Refugees is a document that protects someone from being political prosecution in their own home country and other forms of torture (UNHCR, n.d, p3). However, Malaysia has declared its support for 2012 ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. The declaration made by ASEAN assured that people who are in need of protection should be protected under the law, personal liberty, security, freedom of movement and others. The declaration is generally similar to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (NV 2013, Pp.3). Malaysia is also one of the members of ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). In 2015, Malaysia was appointed as a chair of ASEAN (“Equal Only in Name, The Human Rights of Stateless Rohingya in Malaysia’, 2014, pp23-24). Therefore, Malaysia has an ethical obligation to respect its commitment in the declaration by sheltering the Rohingya temporarily. The declaration made by ASEAN gives Rohingya refugees the right to have access to their basic human rights and needs like food, medical care and others. This is very important step in keeping the lives of the Rohingyas because of the declaration in helping human rights protection. Resettlement of these people would be the next step and Malaysia could share this responsibility with ASEAN.
As stated in the Declaration of ASEAN Concord II, ASEAN is a regional organization built upon the pillar of economic, socio-cultural cooperation and integration (Declaration of ASEAN Concord II (Bali Concord II, n.d, pp2). This declaration is the foundation of ASEAN framework. As such, ASEAN members should come together in solving this refugee crisis but more importantly, Malaysia should first to provide the urgent need of the Rohingyas.
The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights should take greater effort and be responsible in settling human rights crisis within ASEAN countries. Since the creation of AICHR in 2009, the organization has failed to prevent numbers of human rights violations within South East Asia. The commission’s most notable failure has been to prevent the atrocities committed by the Burmese government towards the Rohingya. The Rohingya minority are subject to rape, force labor, torture, and killing (Katherine, S, 2015, pp. 139). This is a clear violation of ASEAN Human Rights Charter and AICHR should react and enforced the charter. Unfortunately, the commission’s move is limited because the AICHR is leaning towards promotion of human rights as stated in its mandate (Andre, A 2014, pp.196). Furthermore, the organization is filled with state representatives rather than a third-party observer (ASEAN Studies Centre, n.d). Therefore, these delegates would work based on the interest of each state. Moreover, the lack of democratic governments within the ASEAN worsened the situation. Despite the number of flaws in the structure of the commission, there are several ways that ASEAN can still consider in making the organization work. First, AICHR should be given more authority so the organization can deal with human rights abuse cases like the Rohingya. Such authority can only be given if the mandate of the commission is changed. The organization’s mandate should be changed to an active role in human rights protection. This will allow AICHR to advise affected countries to improve their human rights standards. Secondly, the state representatives of AICHR should be given deeper understanding and knowledge regarding human rights. Ultimately, this would raise a regional awareness about human rights issue among ASEAN members and can improve the human rights record in South East Asia.
Despite their difficulties, the fate of Rohingyas received little attention from other ASEAN countries. People of ASEAN believed that their countries’ economies are unable to generate enough wealth to both support their own citizens as well as the refugees. Other ASEAN countries used the argument that their countries do not have the ethical or legal obligation to take in the Rohingya. This is because the majority of ASEAN countries never signed the 1951 Convention on Refugees and they are not obliged to cater to refugees (ASEAN members must ratify UN refugee and mugrant Conventions 2005). There is evidence that ASEAN countries could still sustain the influx of Rohingya refugees as well as keep its own citizens from starving, as well as maintain their legal obligation. First, ASEAN countries have already pledged to support the ASEAN Human Rights Charter in the 21st ASEAN Summit in Cambodia. Inside this charter, their pledge to reaffirm their support for the promotion of human rights, reaffirm further their support for Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and reaffirm protection of human rights within ASEAN (‘ASEAN Human Rights Declaration’). By ratifying the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights and pledging to uphold it, ASEAN countries have both ethical and legal obligation to take in the Rohingya. Also, ASEAN countries should move even further to promote the rights of the Rohingya in Burma itself. Second, the argument that sheltering Rohingya would cripple many ASEAN countries economies is invalid. Many developed countries have pledged to give aid to the countries that willing to shelter the Rohingya. Between May to August this year, there have been four developed countries that have been willing to provide economic aid for countries that are willing to take in the Rohingya. Japan is expected to provide $ 3.5 million emergency aid for the Rohignya (Japan to provide $3.5 million in emergency aid for Rohingya migrants, 2015). The United States has also pledged to give economic aid to any country who are willing to shelter the stranded Rohingya (US State Department pledges aid for countries housing stranded Rohingya, 2015). It is important to realize that ASEAN countries would not lose anything by sheltering the Rohingya due to aid promised by many developed countries. Therefore, ASEAN responsibility to shelter the Rohingya are both ethically and economically justified.
In summary, Malaysia as a member of ASEAN should know its loyalty and commitment to the organization’s declaration by taking in the Rohingya. In the long run, ASEAN should strengthen the AICHR and utilized of the economic aid given by other developed nations to cater the need of Rohingya.
ASEAN should take more responsibility in settling the issue of Rohingya Refugee Crisis. There are several steps that need to be done to settle the issue for good. Firstly, members of ASEAN like Malaysia should prioritize its ASEAN values and commitment by sheltering the Rohingya temporarily. Secondly, ASEAN should strengthen the AICHR by providing more authority and give AICHR representatives adequate knowledge on human rights. Thirdly, ASEAN countries should realize their obligation towards the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and share responsibility in taking in and protecting the Rohingya based on this declaration. Last but not least, ASEAN should utilize the aid promised by other developed nations to cater the need of Rohingya.
Adritho Zaifar is an academic researcher, consultant and ambassador who received his Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) from Monash University Malaysia. Mr. Adritho is planning to pursue MSc & PhD (Economics) after his graduation. His research interest are in the area of Political Economy, Development Economics, International Relations, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics and The Politics and Economics of ASEAN & Japan. Besides his research activities, Adritho has actively engaged with professionals in both public & private sector. He was an undergraduate consultant for economic affairs to Penang Institute for a period of 4 months. During this attachment period with Penang Institute, Adritho worked on an economic policy project to bolster Penang digital economy. His private sector experience includes an internship attachment with IPSOS Malaysia. Adritho was attached to quantitative research team at IPSOS Malaysia. During his period of internship he was tasked to analyze market research reports for clients arranging from Unilever, Petronas and Sunlight.
In order to support his activities as a research scholar, Adritho joined International Association of Political Science Students (IAPSS) & International Political Science Association (IPSA) in 2017. Recently, Adritho is appointed as International Association for Political Students (IAPSS) Ambassador to Malaysia.
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