This article postulates that Myanmar’s long-discarded ethnic minority group, the Rohingya people in Rakhine State, has a multifaceted characteristic—refugees, internally displaced persons, and stateless people. They have one common theme—the most persecuted minority in the world. This paper investigates their plight from its origins in the nineteenth century up to now and argues that ASEAN needs to consider on the applicability of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm to eradicate their plight. Interference, however, would be an unorthodox diplomatic move that violates ASEAN’s long-guarded non-interference principle.
The justifications for interference are three-fold: the Rohingyas are “stateless” people with no governmental protection for their right to life; they fall victim to the inter-communal violence that was invoked by nationalistic Buddhist movements; and their evacuation from the deteriorating human rights conditions on the ground puts their life into jeopardy at sea, and they are subject to human trafficking at a later stage.
The United Nations World Summit Outcome Document stipulated the R2P norm in 2005. ASEAN member states verbally accepted this norm’s emergence in the first instance, but are at odds with its introduction into regional politics. To examine the theoretical and policy application of it, we do not take this norm’s localization in Southeast Asia for granted.
This piece categorizes three types of arguments over the R2P and its localization within the ASEAN area when we examine the Rohingya issues in Myanmar and beyond. First, there are “accommodationsit” that say that the state sovereignty can be reconciled with humanitarian needs and imperative situations faced with the Rohingya’s plight. “Incrementalist” contend that ASEAN has endeavored to create a caring society for its people by establishing new institutions to promote and protect human rights and fundamental values. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, as an overarching institution of the kind, is a case in point. Despite some institutional deficiencies, it has at least a “tongue”—promoting and protecting ASEAN people’s fundamental rights as encapsulated in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration(2012). Incrementalist can view these existing legal frameworks, humanitarian and human rights instruments, to which the ASEAN member states have acceded, as the window of opportunity for a possible localization of R2P in the region. Finally, “Scepticist” regard the R2P’s localization as premature, since the ardent advocacy for the norm comes from external regional non-state actors. This makes the scepticist doubt that decision-makers in ASEAN really take the norm seriously.
In light of the events surrounding the Rohingyas from 2012 onwards, these three claims have been examined. The incrementalist view on R2P, supported by various ASEAN documents, seems to have gained ground. The ASEAN foreign ministers’ retreat meeting on December 2016 paved the way for ASEAN’s pragmatic application of R2P principle, without embarrassing Myanmar by directly alluding to the R2P. This article concludes that the gap between the non-interference principle and the humanitarian norm appears to be narrowing in the case of Myanmar’s Rohingya issues.
“International Relations” has not published a special issue on Southeast Asia for more than half a century since the publication of Vol. 16 in 1961. Even if we take a shorter period and count the years since the publication of Vol. 84, sub-titled “Southeast Asia”, more than 30 years have elapsed with no publication on Southeast Asia. Such a long interval does not, however, necessarily denote the insignificance of this region.
This Introduction has 3 purposes: 1) to give an overview of changes in Southeast Asian countries since the end of the Cold War, 2) to identify recent research trends in the light of important research results, and 3) to summarize each article in this special issue.
Since the end of the Cold War, Southeast Asia has faced various challenges, such as globalization,regionalization (ASEAN integration), democratization and anti-democratization, terrorism, and so forth. In this region, domestic politics and foreign policies are closely inter-related. On the one hand, the international environment acts as a constraint on domestic politics, and on the other hand, foreign policy should be considered as an extension of domestic politics.
Political, economic and social transformations in Southeast Asian countries since the end of the Cold War are summarized by each country. The countries are divided into 4 groups: 1) countries with experience of democratization (Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand); 2) countries with experience of authoritarian regimes (Malaysia and Singapore); 3) countries that have suffered from civil war or control by a military regime (East Timor, Cambodia, and Myanmar); and 4) one-party Socialist countries (Vietnam and Laos).
Factors such as increased urbanization, the popularization of higher education and change in industrial structure are likely to result in different political outcomes in each country depending on its domestic political regime. Various problems facing Southeast Asian countries can be divided into the following: political transformation and democratization, political parties and elections, decentralization, local governance and political stability, integration and secession. New issues include peace-building,responsibility to protect, non-traditional security, and trans-border migration. Important research results are also referred to.
Finally, summaries of the six articles on Southeast Asia published in this special issue are listed in the order of the issues mentioned above.
While quantitative research continues to be important in Southeast Asian Studies, an Area Studies approach is still relevant for research on politics and international relations in Southeast Asia
The waters connecting Indonesia and Australia (the Indian Ocean, the Timor Sea and the Arafura Sea) have been a “people smuggling” trade route to Australia since the mid-1990s. Many asylum seekers, mainly from Central Asia and the Middle East, departed Indonesian coasts for Australian territories, including Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef, on shabby wooden fishing boats. In response, the Australian government started to implement increasingly rigid border control policies in order to deter such boat arrivals, often portrayed as serious threats to Australian sovereignty. The most notorious is the so-called “Pacific Solution”, which was implemented between 2001 to 2008, and was resumed in 2012 to intercept and remove “boat people” to offshore detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
It is noteworthy that the Australian government has sought to address its boat people issues by positively using the regional cooperation framework of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, which is an official international forum established in 2002 on Australia’s initiative. Currently, the Bali Process has over 48 members, including all ASEAN countries and UNHCR, as well as a number of observer countries and international agencies.
This paper traces how the Bali Process has been intrinsically linked to Australian national policy on asylum seekers, and examines the tension among the members, including UNHCR, which has tried to put refugee protection onto the agenda of the Bali Process. In spite of UNHCR’s efforts, securitised discourse on irregular migration has dominated the Bali Process, which has served Australia’s political interests well at the risk of promoting a holistic regional approach for refugee protection.
On the other hand, as M. Curley & K. Vandyk mentioned, the Bali Process is an institutional space in which co-chairs Australia and Indonesia and other regional countries could contest and amend the norms and practices around the human rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. In this sense, the Bali Process has significant consequences for the international refugee regime in the Asia Pacific region, where most countries are not parties to the Refugee Convention or Protocol.
As such, emerging trends in the Bali Process are also considered to shed light on more recent positive signs, such as the new active role of Indonesia in shaping the agenda seen in the Jakarta Declaration, reflecting a broader humanitarian perspective than ever as well as the possibility of cooperation between the state-led Bali Process and civil society actors.
This study considers the formation of the concept of ‘Bamar Muslims’ by examining the description in history books written by them and the political and social background of the 1930s. ‘Bamar Muslims’ are self−styled individuals having Islamic faith; they are conscious indigenous citizens and respect Myanmar customs. It is maintained that approximately 89% of the entire population of Myanmar is Buddhist, with 98% of the Burmese ethnic group following Buddhism. It is quite common that the term “Bamar” includes a religious implication, namely Buddhism, although it is occasionally used to refer to the Burmese “ethnic group” only. The concept of “Bamar” ethnicity, which includes both ethnic grouping and religious belief, is widespread throughout Myanmar society.
In British Burma, there was an influx of Indian immigrants in the mid−19th century because of the new administrative system and economic development during the British colonial rule. Muslims currently living in Myanmar, including ‘Bamar Muslims’, are mostly descendants of Indian immigrants who migrated prior to, or during, the British colonial period. Most of these immigrants gained citizenship through naturalization and appeared to be integrated into the nation state.
The claim of Bamar Muslims appeared during the British colonial period. Bamar Muslims wrote some books on their history in the 1930s, emphasizing that they are not Indians but ethnically Burmese. These history books describe their adoption of Burmese culture and customs, and good relationships between Bamar Muslims and the dynasties of Burma. In contrast, on the Census, they were categorized as ‘Zerbadi,’ whose father is Indian Muslim and mother is Burmese Buddhist. The Zerbadi community was recognised as the Indian Muslim community, and the Census reports show that Burmese people regarded Bamar Muslims as Indians or foreigners, not as Burmese. Moreover, in the 1930s, there was widespread discontent against Indians in Burmese society, so the Indians found the environment there uneasiness because of the social frustration directed at them.
The voice of Bamar Muslims that they were indigenous Muslims and respected Myanmar’s culture first came to light during the 1920s and 1930s; this was a result of an interplay of various factors. The point of emphasis first appeared in history books written by Bamar Muslims themselves, in which they asserted their own identity. In addition, it is speculated that one of the reasons for the formation of the concept of ‘Bamar Muslims’ was the feeling of anxiety harboured by those who found themselves the targets of frustration and dissatisfaction, along with the feeling of disconnect between their self−consciousness and the way in which the surrounding society grouped and categorised them.
This paper explores the politics of sexuality issues (sexuality politics) between the government and the LGBT movement in Malaysia since the 1980s. The Malaysian LGBT movement has faced repressive government policies and discrimination from society. However, some LGBT movements in the post-Mahathir era, such as Seksualiti Merdeka, Justice for Sisters, and Pelangi, have associated with the other NGOs and social movements and actively advocated the protection of LGBT people’s human rights in public spaces.
This paper explores when and how sexuality politics between the state and the LGBT movement appeared in Malaysia. Four incidents or moments were found to be important for the birth of sexuality politics in Malaysia: Islamization since the 1980s, the Asian Values discourse during the Mahathir administration, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the sodomy court case of Anwar Ibrahim. In the post-Mahathir era, the state has introduced new ways of repressing LGBT people, while the LGBT movements have also adopted new strategies.