Human rights skirted at Manila’s Asia summit

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Myanmar's State Councellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi (right) chats with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as they arrive for a family photo before the 19th ASEAN Republic of Korea Summit on the sideline of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit. AFP

MANILA (Reuters) – Leaders of Asian nations meeting in Manila yesterday skirted around the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims triggered by Myanmar’s military crackdown, disappointing human rights
groups who were hoping for a tough stand on the humanitarian crisis.

There was no pressure either from US President Donald Trump over the Philippines’ bloody war
on drugs during a meeting on the sidelines of the summit with President Rodrigo Duterte.

Mr Trump told reporters he had a “great relationship” with Philippines leader, who, a year ago, had branded then-President Barack Obama “a son of a bitch” for questioning his ruthless campaign.

“They really hit it off,” Mr Duterte’s communications secretary Martin Andanar told reporters after the meeting with Mr Trump.

A draft of the statement to be issued after a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders made no mention of the
flight of Rohingya from military operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

One paragraph mentioned fleetingly the importance of humanitarian relief for “affected communities” in Rakhine state.

The statement was drawn up by the Philippines, current chair of the 10-member Asean, which includes Myanmar.

It did not use the term Rohingya for the persecuted Muslim minority, which Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has asked foreign leaders to avoid. The government in mostly-Buddhist Myanmar regards the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and does not recognise the term.

Some Asean countries, particularly Muslim-majority Malaysia, have voiced strong concern over the issue recently.

However, in keeping with Asean’s principle of non-interference in each others’ internal affairs, it appeared to have been put aside at the summit.

“With Myanmar having ethnically cleansed 600,000 Rohingya Muslims in just two months, it’s time for Asean to transcend its do-nothing approach to atrocities among its members,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, in a Twitter message.

The Asean leaders did agree that they should not take a lull in the dispute over the South China Sea
for granted.

“While the situation is calmer now, we cannot take the current progress for granted,” they said in a statement drafted ahead of a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

“It is in our collective interest to avoid miscalculations that could lead to escalation of tensions.”

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