SINGAPORE: The long-term solution to the crisis in the Rakhine state is a political one, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Tuesday (Oct 2). And politics, he said, must involve “discussion, disagreement, dispute resolution, and hoping that cooler heads will prevail.”
“Compulsion, tempting as it is, usually almost never works in this sort of situation,” he said.
Dr Balakrishnan was responding in Parliament to questions from MPs over how regional bloc ASEAN – and Singapore as its chair – can further help to resolve the crisis, following the release of a full report by the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Sep 18.
The report laid out in detail a vast array of violations said to have been committed by Myanmar’s army against the minority Rohingya people – more than 700,000 of whom have fled the Rakhine state in Western Myanmar after a military crackdown that started in August last year.
Dr Balakrishnan said there was an informal ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Sep 29 in New York where ministers expressed their “grave concern” about the alleged acts of violence. He added that the ministers also urged the Myanmar government to give the independent commission of inquiry – which the Myanmar government appointed in July – a full mandate to investigate, and to hold all those responsible fully accountable.
“To be brutally honest, this is a man-made, humanitarian disaster and something which should not be happening in this day and age,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
He also emphasised that the responsibility lies with the Myanmar government to do the right thing for all the “vulnerable, defenceless and innocent victims".
“It’s also a salutary warning to all of us in Southeast Asia,” he added, pointing out that race, language and religion are issues that can always be exploited for short-term political gains.
“But an unfair share of the burden and of the injuries are sustained by defenceless people.”
In terms of what more Singapore - as ASEAN chair - can do, Dr Balakrishnan stressed that compulsion and force of law are not options, as far as the regional grouping is concerned.
“But what we can do, through moral suasion, persuasion, transparency and keeping this on the agenda ... and also telling the Myanmar government that we want and hope for a long-term, viable, good outcome, and ASEAN stands ready to help,” he said.
“But members also need to understand that ASEAN is an association that makes decisions by consensus. And once you understand that every decision requires consensus, it effectively means that every single country has a veto,” he added. “That acts as a constraint to the legal options available.”
In the meantime, Dr Balakrishnan added that the Singapore government has sent assistance to the refugees in Bangladesh, and depending on an assessment on future needs, this may be done again.
In a supplementary question, MP Louis Ng asked Dr Balakrishnan when the assessment would be completed, citing his personal experience on the ground visiting refugee camps in Bangladesh.
To that, Dr Balakrishnan responded that the Singapore government is in touch with the Bangladesh government. But he stressed that his concern goes beyond just humanitarian assistance.
“You actually need a long-term solution,” he said. “And a long-term solution is a political solution.”