QUESTIONS:

Mr Christopher de Souza: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) whether Myanmar can be compelled to remedy the human tragedy facing the Rohingya people under articles 4 and 39 and other relevant articles of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD); and (b) what other kinds of diplomatic pressures can be applied on Myanmar to curb the alleged discrimination of the Rohingya people pursuant to article 22 and other relevant articles of the AHRD.

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs with Singapore assuming the ASEAN chair in 2018, whether there are plans for more concerted efforts to compel the Myanmar government to stop the discrimination and humanitarian catastrophe of the Rohingya people.

Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) how does Singapore intend to support the government of Myanmar in restoring peace and stability in the Rakhine state; (b) how important is it to Singapore (as chair of ASEAN in 2018) and ASEAN in responding to the urgent situation in Rakhine or conflict in any member states that may threaten the stability of the region; and (c) whether the Government of Singapore will consider providing humanitarian assistance through the government of Bangladesh given that Bangladesh will build a refugee camp for more than 400,000 displaced Rohingya refugees.

Mr Pritam Singh: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) what is the Government's assessment of the humanitarian tragedy facing the Rohingya population in Myanmar; and (b) whether there is a constructive role that ASEAN can play to address the crisis.

REPLY:

In Myanmar's Northern Rakhine State, a humanitarian disaster has unfolded in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on 25 August 2017 and subsequent related acts of violence. The conflict has resulted in loss of lives, destruction of homes and the displacement of large numbers of people. The situation in the Rakhine State is a complex inter-communal issue with deep historical roots, dating back more than half a century. There are no quick-fixes. The immediate task at hand is for all the parties involved to cease actions that will further worsen the situation on the ground, so that humanitarian assistance can reach those desperately in need regardless of ethnicity and religious affiliation. We urge the restoration of peace, stability and the rule of law in the Rakhine State. It is the responsibility of every government to protect every civilian and to restore law and order. Comprehensive, long-term and sustainable solutions must also be found to address the underlying challenges and build trust among the different stakeholders and communities, and define the legal status of everyone in Rakhine State. As a close friend and neighbour, Singapore stands ready to support the Myanmar government in whatever way we can to make a positive contribution.

2 Given the scale of the humanitarian needs, the Singapore Government will be offering bilateral humanitarian aid to both Myanmar and Bangladesh. We hope to contribute to the efforts to help all affected communities on both sides of the border regardless of ethnicity and religion. For Myanmar, we will be offering an aid package comprising approximately S$100,000 worth of supplies from the Singapore Government. For Bangladesh, given that it is experiencing a more severe refugee crisis, we will be offering two humanitarian loads comprising approximately S$200,000 worth of supplies from the Singapore Government.

3 Our community organisations have also launched fundraising drives for the affected communities in Rakhine State. I would like to highlight three such organisations in my reply.

4 The first is the Singapore Red Cross (SRC), which has been providing humanitarian assistance in Rakhine State since 2012. The SRC has launched a month-long public fundraising appeal[1] and committed S$27,150 worth of relief items to be distributed in Rakhine State. This is in addition to an earlier contribution of US$50,000 in shelter items to the Rakhine State. The SRC will work with the Myanmar Red Cross and the Bangladesh Red Crescent to ensure that the relief items reach the affected communities.

5 The second is the Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation (RLAF), a community based charity, which has raised more than S$300,000 thus far.[2] The RLAF will work with the UN High Commission for Refugees to distribute aid to the refugees in Bangladesh. Earlier in December 2016, RLAF and our local communities had also channelled more than S$180,000 of humanitarian aid to affected communities in the Rakhine State.

6 Mercy Relief will also raise funds, and is planning to deploy a team to conduct aid distribution in Bangladesh. Mercy Relief will work with Action Aid International, an established international non-governmental organisation in Bangladesh, as well as the Bangladesh Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, to distribute S$100,000 worth of items including solar lamps, blankets and shelter for affected communities.

7 The funds raised will be used to provide humanitarian aid to all affected communities in that region, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

8 Members have also asked about the role ASEAN can play. Mr Christopher De Souza asked specifically if Myanmar can be compelled under the relevant articles in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD). The AHRD reaffirms ASEAN Member States' common interest and commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the purposes and the principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter. Although the AHRD does not impose legal obligations, we expect all ASEAN countries to uphold the spirit and the principles set out in the document.

9 The situation in Myanmar affects all ASEAN countries as well as the wider international community. It is in our common interest to work with the Myanmar government to support its efforts to restore peace and stability, and to find long-term solutions to this complex communal problem in the Rakhine State. While the principle of non-interference is enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, the Charter also calls for enhanced consultations on matters of common interest of ASEAN.

10 The ASEAN Foreign Ministers recently held an informal meeting in New York on 23 September 2017 to discuss the issue of the Rakhine State. The meeting began with Myanmar Minister of State for Foreign Affairs U Kyaw Tin's briefing on the developments in the Rakhine State, followed by a frank and robust exchange of views among the Foreign Ministers.

11 Following the meeting, the Philippines issued an ASEAN Chairman's Statement on the Humanitarian Situation in the Rakhine State, which condemned the recent acts of violence and welcomed Myanmar's efforts to resolve the situation on the ground. The Chairman's Statement also reflected the undertaking by all ASEAN Member States to support Myanmar's humanitarian relief effort, and to activate the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) to work with the Myanmar Government-led mechanism, in cooperation with the Red Cross Movement, to deliver humanitarian assistance to all displaced inhabitants without discrimination. This was in line with the Foreign Ministers' recognition of the need for increased humanitarian access to all affected communities.

12 The Myanmar government has acknowledged that they need to address this crucible of inter-communal tension in the Rakhine State. One year ago, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi established a commission led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to make long-term recommendations to address the challenges facing the ethnically and religiously divided Rakhine State. The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State has submitted its final report and recommendations. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed her government's determination to implement them fully and within the shortest time possible. A 15-member inter-ministerial committee has been formed to look into the recommendations. Myanmar has also welcomed the offers of the international community to contribute towards the government's humanitarian assistance programme. We hope that these efforts will be fruitful.

13 There is an urgent need to restore peace, stability, harmony and reconciliation among all the communities in Rakhine State. As ASEAN Member States, we are all committed to abide by the principles set out in the ASEAN Charter to enhance good governance and the rule of law. ASEAN has conveyed its hope and support for a long term solution to a complex inter-communal issue with deep historical roots. While responsibility to resolve the complex issues involving the peoples of the Rakhine State ultimately rests with all the parties concerned in Myanmar themselves, Singapore and our fellow ASEAN Member States can do our part to support efforts by all parties to work towards a viable solution, so that affected communities can rebuild their lives.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore