ASEAN’s support to Myanmar in resolving situation in Rakhine State

Parliamentary Question, 3 Feb 2020

Ms Anthea Ong asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) whether he can provide an update on the Rohingya crisis as discussed at the recent ASEAN and UN meetings; and (b) whether ASEAN (i) intends to support Myanmar in implementing the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission and, if yes, what is the target timeline (ii) is confident that there will be continued support of Bangladesh and necessary funding for the refugees at Cox’s Bazar whilst repatriation options are being negotiated and (iii) has considered and agreed on a “Plan B” for the Rohingya people should the repatriation negotiations not work out.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: The situation in Rakhine State is a complex inter-communal issue with deep historical roots. It remains a common concern to all ASEAN Member States. ASEAN has actively engaged the Myanmar Government on the situation, and has extended humanitarian support to the affected communities, through the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management, or AHA Centre.

At the 35th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in November last year, ASEAN Leaders agreed to establish an Ad-Hoc Support Team of the ASEAN Secretariat to focus on implementing the recommendations of the preliminary needs assessment. You may recall that ASEAN despatched an Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ERAT) to Rakhine State in March 2019 to conduct this preliminary needs assessment. Following the ERAT’s visit in March 2019, it tabled a report identifying possible areas where ASEAN could lend its assistance to the Myanmar Government, to aid in the repatriation process.

Recommendations from the preliminary needs assessment were further distilled into priority activities, which the ASEAN Leaders welcomed at the 35th ASEAN Summit. The activities cover areas such as providing equipment for the reception and transit centres in Rakhine State, building infrastructure, and strengthening communication between officials and displaced persons to facilitate repatriation. More recently, at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ (FMs) Retreat in January this year, the ASEAN FMs tasked the Support Team to identify further concrete projects through which ASEAN could help to improve the ground conditions in Rakhine State. ASEAN is committed to sustaining efforts to address this problem. We have also encouraged Myanmar to continue implementing the remaining recommendations of the final report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

Both Myanmar and Bangladesh have reaffirmed their commitment to repatriate the refugees. ASEAN continues to encourage continued and effective dialogue between the two parties; Myanmar officials, supported by the ASEAN Secretariat and the AHA Centre, made two trips to Cox’s Bazar in 2019 to follow up on the recommendations of the preliminary needs assessment report and to speak to Bangladesh officials. Myanmar and Bangladesh should continue to work with the relevant stakeholders including the UN agencies to ensure the repatriation of refugees is conducted in a voluntary, safe, secure and dignified way.

The security situation in Rakhine State remains a grave concern, due to the ongoing armed conflict between the Arakan Army, a Rakhine nationalist armed group, and the Myanmar armed forces (Tatmadaw), including in the territory previously occupied by many of the refugees. This is an internal issue for Myanmar. On its part, ASEAN has urged all Parties to avoid further violence so that humanitarian assistance can reach all those who are in need.

We noted that the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) established by the Myanmar Government submitted its Final Report on 20 January 2020. The Myanmar authorities said it will investigate the crimes alleged in the report and to prosecute where the evidence indicates so. Separately, on 23 January 2020, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered provisional measures in the case brought against Myanmar by Gambia under the Application on the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

As a small state, Singapore is a strong proponent of international law, of which the ICJ is an important pillar. We urge all parties to respect the ICJ’s decision on provisional measures. We continue to encourage and welcome all efforts to seek transparency and accountability in respect of the situation in Rakhine State. These are important steps to a long-term, sustainable solution that takes into account the concerns and interests of all the different ethnic communities in Rakhine State.

ASEAN hopes to see peace and stability return to Rakhine State. ASEAN will continue to support the efforts to create conducive conditions for repatriation to begin. But it is ultimately the responsibility of the Myanmar Government and relevant stakeholders to work towards a viable and durable political solution that addresses the underlying causes of this longstanding and complex problem. This is the only way to resolve this problem definitively.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)

The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities. She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and climate change in Parliament.

She is also an impact entrepreneur/investor and a passionate mental health advocate, especially in workplace wellbeing. She started WorkWell Leaders Workgroup in May 2018 to bring together top leaders (CXOs, Heads of HR/CSR/D&I) of top employers in Singapore (both public and private) to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices to promote workplace wellbeing. Anthea is also the founder of Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar and a social movement that aims to bring silence, self care and social inclusion into every workplace, every community — with a cup of tea. The Hush Experience is completely led by lovingly-trained Deaf facilitators, supported by a team of Persons with Mental Health Issues (PMHIs).

Follow Anthea Ong on her public page at



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store