Indonesia's Moral Diplomacy
Image Credit: Office of Indonesian Foreign Ministry

Indonesia's Moral Diplomacy


Indonesia has again shown its willingness to step outside of the diplomatic box, which normally constrains relations within the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), this time coming out in support of the often bullied Muslim Rohingyas in Burma.

Jakarta wants the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to act and help stop the bloody oppression of Rohingyas, and additionally supported the OIC taking action against Syria.

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As a result, the Extraordinary Summit of the OIC in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, has made the decision to suspend Syria’s membership and to take the Rohingya’s plight before the United Nations General Assembly because of the continued “recourse to violence by the Myanmar authorities against the members of this minority and their refusal to recognize their right to citizenship.”

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa says a concrete strategy to stop the violence must be devised and his decision to speak up was a victory for common sense and his own moral fiber

ASEAN prefers its members not to comment or dabble in the affairs of its neighbors. However, Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, has shown it is prepared to act when and where it deems necessary.

“As a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural country, just as Myanmar is, Indonesia understands and has experience overcoming horizontal conflicts that are not easy to solve,” Marty told local media.

Already this year Jakarta has attempted to broker an end to the border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia at the temple ruins of Preah Vihear and strived to resolve a diplomatic impasse between ASEAN members over disputes with China around the dispute Spratly and Paracel Islands.

In Burma, at least 80 people have died since sectarian unrest erupted in the Western state of Rakhine in June following the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman. Ten Muslims were subsequently lynched.

As the violence flared, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Burma’s security forces of opening fire on Rohingyas, committing rape, and standing by as mobs attacked each other.

With the exception of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, the involvement of the OIC in Burma will no doubt raise concerns among the other members of ASEAN, if only because of an almost maniacal loathing of outsiders with opinions, and it highlights their inability to act when needed.

Burmese President Thein Sein has given his blessing to OIC involvement but the reality is he had little choice. He has made it known he’d rather have had the UN classify the Rohingya as refugees, packed-up and sent to a third country despite centuries of Muslim history in Burma.

This would amount to winning global approval for committing cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing on an enormous scale. There are an estimated 800,000 Rohingyas living in Burma and for good reason, the United Nations and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made it clear this is not an option.

Hence, alternative OIC involvement could prove ideal, aided by a donation of US$50 million from Saudi Arabia to be spent on aiding the miserably impoverished Rohingyas. It would also provide a valuable precedent for the rest of ASEAN which does well on the economic and trade front but constantly struggles with issues that encompass human rights.

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