MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to speak up and hold Myanmar’s military leaders accountable for blatant human rights violations but said the country should remain in the regional bloc.
Anwar, who took office in November, has become one of the most vocal critics in ASEAN of Myanmar’s military, which seized power from the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021.
In a visit to the Philippines, he discussed the Myanmar crisis with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday and called on ASEAN to explore new ways to persuade Myanmar’s ruling generals to halt the violence, saying it is affecting the region.
“They need to do more because it is causing us a major problem, we have 200,000 (Myanmar) refugees in Malaysia alone,” Anwar told The Associated Press after delivering a lecture Thursday at the University of the Philippines, at which he received an honorary degree for advocating democracy and fighting corruption.
In his lecture, Anwar urged ASEAN to speak up on atrocities in Myanmar and not be restrained by the group’s bedrock principles of deciding by consensus and non-intervention in each other’s domestic affairs.
Deciding by consensus “does not mean that ASEAN should remain silent over developments in member states that affect the wider region or particularly egregious violations of the ASEAN charter by its own members,” Anwar said.
“In all honesty, I believe that non-interference is not a license for indifference,” he said.
By helping to hold those responsible for violence in Myanmar accountable, ASEAN would stay true to its key ideal of upholding justice and the rule of law, Anwar said.
He cited Philippine national hero Jose Rizal’s description of justice “as the foremost virtue of the civilizing races. It subdues the barbarous nations while injustice arouses the weakest.”
Since the military’s takeover in Myanmar, security forces have killed thousands of civilians and army sweeps through the countryside have displaced more than 1 million people. In 2017, a brutal counterinsurgency campaign against the Muslim Rohingya minority drove more than 740,000 to flee across the border into Bangladesh, where they remain in refugee camps.
ASEAN leaders later forged a five-point peace plan that called for an immediate end to the violence, a visit by an ASEAN special envoy to foster dialogue among contending parties and provision of humanitarian aid. Myanmar’s military government initially agreed to it but later stymied its implementation.
Western nations have taken stronger action, including political and economic sanctions against the generals and their cronies. Under intense international pressure to do more, ASEAN excluded top Myanmar officials from the bloc’s meetings starting in 2021.
Anwar told the AP he is not calling for Myanmar to be suspended from ASEAN membership, despite earlier mentioning a “need to temporarily carve out Myanmar.” Instead, ASEAN should explore more ways to end the crisis and not allow Myanmar to hamper the group’s political and economic progress, he said.
“I mean leave them aside,” Anwar said, without elaborating. Myanmar “should not frustrate our work.”
By JIM GOMEZ Associated Press
Associated Press journalists Aaron Favila and Cecilia Forbes contributed to this report.