Week 528 – Suday,2007-10-07: National Sovereignty and International Solidarity
The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 528
With peaceful demonstrations made impossible by prohibiting meetings of more than five persons, with armed military units stationed inside of pagodas, with many monks detained, with thousands of people arrested, with demonstrators killed, with military an police visibly deployed in many towns – the crisis in Myanmar has been escalating during the week, though large scale demonstrations had come to an end under these circumstances.
But while people around the world showed their concern publicly in many ways – also many people gathered in front of the Embassy of Myanmar in Phnom Penh in the early hours of the afternoon every day last week, giving a peaceful sign of concerns – the international community of nations needed some time to react. It had created some arrangements by which it had to a certain extent incapacitated itself.
It has to be remembered that the “Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia” – the basic document from February 1976 by which the Association of South East Asian Nations – ASEAN – defined itself with the purpose “ to promote perpetual peace, everlasting amity and cooperation among their peoples,” defined also in the next article a fundamental principle guiding their cooperation: the “non-interference in the internal affairs of one another.”
This principle became the target critical reflection after Myanmar – under a military government and with a recent history of repression – had been accepted into the fellowship of the ASEAN nations in 1997.
The former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas had been sent to Myanmar as a special envoy with the task to promote a political solution for the democratically elected leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who had received the Nobel Peace Price in 1991, but was under house arrest. He said, as early as 2004, “Respect for sovereignty will remain a basic principle for ASEAN, but increasingly we realize that we have to be flexible, that we have to be non-doctrinaire in some of these things. We realize that we have to reinvent ourselves in order to remain relevant, in order to remain effective.” His voice was not headed for a long time.
ASEAN affairs are chaired, in turn, by every member state. But long before it would have been Myanmar’s turn in 2006, several ASEAN governments wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having a military government in the chair of ASEAN. At that time, Cambodia took a clear position. It was reported that the Cambodian Prime Minister told the visiting prime minister of Singapore in March 2005, “I raised the position of Cambodia regarding the Myanmar problem, which is the same as I have mentioned before: that Myanmar’s internal affairs should be for Myanmar to solve.”
After the Cambodian Prime Minister’s return from an official visit to Myanmar from 21 to 23 May 2007, which was to strengthen the relations of friendship and bilateral cooperation between the two countries, it was also reported that the Cambodian delegation was satisfied with the movement towards democracy.
The past week has brought a dramatic change in the position of the Cambodian government. While the United Nations Special Envoy to Myanmar delivered to the UN Security Council “continuing and disturbing reports of abuses being committed by security forces, including arbitrary arrests, beatings, disappearances and raids on private homes” after his visit in the troubled country, the Cambodian Prime Minister called on the military leadership in Myanmar to work for reconciliation in a peaceful way. What is also noteworthy, is the fact that the People’s Daily of China, reflecting opinions of the Chinese government, is taking these statements up, also quoting the call of the Cambodian Prime Minister that “ASEAN should be playing a more active role… We would like to see Myanmar exercise the maximum tolerance and refrain from using force to crack down on the protesters,” adding the suggestion of the Prime Minister “that the Myanmar government try to carry on the process of reconciliation, solve the problems and move towards democratization, peace and respect of human rights.”
There are voices in the press remembering that the Cambodian government did not follow what it is now calling for. While to face the historical memory is always important for responsible political action, it is more important to learn from the past, and to reorient one’s vision towards the future, to change the course. In this respect, the suffering of monks and of many people in general in Myanmar may lead to a wider notion that there are limits, where the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of one another has to be amended, because a community – also the community of nations – cannot continue to accept violent injustice without looking for remedies.