A week after Myanmar’s military junta executed four democracy activists, foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) concluded a meeting in Phnom Penh without an agreement about how to push member Myanmar into enacting a crisis resolution plan. Meanwhile, the political, humanitarian, and economic crisis in the country triggered by the coup continues with no end in sight, and the people of Myanmar feel abandoned by the international community.
Scot Marciel, the Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow at APARC, recently examined the criticisms that can be leveled at the world’s response to the ongoing crisis. On July 25, 2022, Marciel testified at a special oral hearing of the International Parliamentary Inquiry for Myanmar (IPI), which brings together members of parliaments from Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas to assess the response of international actors to the crisis in Myanmar and offer recommendations to address the urgent needs in the country. Watch the testimony below:
Chaired by Vice-President of the European Parliament Heidi Hautala, IPI is an initiative of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, a regional network of current and former parliamentarians who use their positions to advance human rights and democracy in Southeast Asia. At the special IPI hearing, Marciel, a career diplomat with extensive experience in Southeast Asia and a former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, highlighted two fundamental problems with the international community’s response to the crisis in Myanmar.
First, said Marciel, several countries, including influential Southeast Asian nations, have chosen to support the military junta to advance their narrow interests. The second problem, he added, is that even those countries and international organizations that have condemned the junta have, to varying degrees, relied on flawed analysis and conventional diplomatic tools and approaches that do not fit the reality of the situation in Myanmar.
Despite adopting a “five-point consensus” on the crisis in April 2021, ASEAN has failed to fulfill its pledges or take meaningful steps toward pressing the junta to end its atrocities. Unfortunately, explains Marciel, “the ASEAN initiative was stillborn, for two reasons. First, the junta almost immediately reneged on its commitment to implement it, saying it only would consider the five points once it had ‘stabilized’ the situation. And second, the five-point consensus itself did not match the reality of Myanmar.”
The trouble, according to Marciel, is that the ASEAN governments as well as other foreign governments have relied on the conventional diplomatic tools of calling for an end to violence and promoting peaceful dialogue, rather than developing an approach that fits the situation on the ground.
The international community needs to rethink its approach, emphasizes Marciel, starting with the understanding that the complex civil conflict in Myanmar is not only a resistance front against the military but also a movement demanding dramatic social and political change. “Myanmar is not facing a conflict between two legitimate political actors,” says Marciel, “but rather a national resistance or revolution against an institution that has brutalized the country for decades for its own benefit and that is now waging war against its own population.”
What could and should the UN and sympathetic governments collectively do to address the crisis? Marciel offers a list of policy recommendations, including stepping up engagement with the National Unity Government (NUG) and key Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), which play a major role in determining the course of Myanmar’s political future, offering training to support nascent local administration efforts in areas controlled by the resistance movement, reconsidering sanctions on the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, and more.
Marciel also recently spoke about the Myanmar crisis and the path forward at two public forums, one hosted by the Asia Society and another by the East-West Center in Washington. Watch the recordings of these discussions below: