On June 9, after intensified bilateral and multilateral diplomacy and campaigns in the past three years, Indonesia secured a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council for 2019-2020.
After gaining more than two-thirds majority votes from the UN General Assembly members, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi revealed Indonesia’s main priorities in the Council. This includes creating a global ecosystem of peace and stability by advancing peacekeeping and peacebuilding, promoting greater engagement and synergy between the Council and regional organisations in conflict prevention, and ensuring synergy between sustaining peace and global development, in particular the 2030 Agenda, by forging global partnership for combating terrorism and radicalism through developing a global comprehensive programme that addresses the root causes.
However, under the slogan of a “true partner for world peace”, can we expect Indonesia to bring in the conflict in the Rakhine state in Myanmar as a Security Council agenda? To date, the Council lacks any resolution addressing the plight of the Rohingya Muslims.
It is a dilemma for Indonesia to “internationalise” the Rakhine conflict in the Security Council. On the one hand, under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s leadership since 2014, Indonesia has generally played a greater role in facilitating and accommodating refugees in Indonesia and abroad.
Indonesia, with special trust from Myanmar to directly approach the government regarding the conflict, has paid more significant attention to the Rohingya. It was shown through an enhanced bilateral engagement with Myanmar’s government, multi-stakeholder diplomacy with civil society organisations in the delivery of humanitarian aid, and the establishment of schools and hospitals for the Rohingya from a multi-donor trust fund.
But bringing the agenda concerning the Rohingya to the Security Council is likely to disrupt “Asean centrality” – and Indonesia’s natural leadership position within the region.
It has been firmly established that Asean would be unlikely to facilitate an attempt to address the root causes of persecution against the Rohingya. The Asean Summit in Singapore in April had “discussed and received a briefing from Myanmar on the humanitarian situation in Rakhine State”, its statement said. However it only reaffirmed a humanitarian approach in the delivery of aid, in particular through the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management.
Although then Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak had stressed that “the situation in Rakhine state in Myanmar can no longer be considered to be a purely domestic matter”, under Singapore’s chairmanship of Asean, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has reaffirmed that “Asean did not have the authority or the capacity to directly intervene in Myanmar’s internal affairs”.
As Asean works with absolute adherence to non-interference, therefore, a proposal to deal with an internal conflict would undoubtedly bring disunity among Asean members, and would especially discredit Myanmar.
With the absence of durable solutions towards the prolonged humanitarian crisis in Rakhine, does Indonesia see the Security Council as a better option than Asean?
Indonesia is likely to “play safe” during its early appointment as one of the Security Council’s non-permanent members.
Moreover, Indonesia cannot pursue its individual interests during the Council’s decision-making process. As a country holding a seat allocated to the Asia-Pacific regional grouping, it needs to very carefully consider its representation of the whole region thoroughly in the UN’s most powerful body
With Asean’s leadership position naturally attached to Indonesia, only collective interests will likely be put forward by Indonesia in the Council. For Rakhine to come up, it would have to be with consent from Asean members, including Myanmar.
DIO HERDIAWAN TOBING is undertaking postgraduate studies in public international law at the Leiden University, the Netherlands