There is an image engraved in our minds of a stoic, reserved, elegant Aung San Suu Kyi unbending in her struggle against Burma’s generals for democracy, and we assumed for human rights. Last year, when the refugees streamed out of her country in the wake of atrocities, it blocked all UN agencies from delivering food, water and medicine to affected civilians; her office accused aid workers of helping terrorists.
Her iconic stature long gone, she made a public appearance the day after the International Fact-Finding Mission released its initial 20-page overview to the UN Human Rights Council on August 27, 2018. The damning evidence of murder, rape, torture, persecution, burned villages, landmines along escape routes reported on by NGOs and news media over the past year had been confirmed. Elegant and patrician as usual, Aung San Suu Kyi discoursed on poetry and literature. No mention of the genocide or the UN report. No longer an icon, there have been calls to relieve her of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The UN group criticized her for her continued refusal to condemn the genocide. The full report detailing unspeakable horrors in its 440-page account has now been released (September 18, 2018). What might surprise people is a simple shocking fact: This is not the first UN report on Rohingya massacres.
On February 3, 2017, the UN issued a detailed account of the military’s operations in north Maungddaw with “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.” It recounted the murders, rapes and tortures that have now become the trademark of military operations against the Rohingya.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein is quoted as saying ” … what kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother’s milk. And for the mother to witness this murder while she is being gang-raped by the very security forces that should be protecting her.”
There were no major consequences for Myanmar then and what happened the following summer was the same magnified over Rakhine state. As a result we have 700,000 refugees, and they are still coming — “11,342 new arrivals as of mid-June this year,” Mr. Zeid has noted.
Will this time be different? Following the UN Commission’s summary report, 160 British parliamentarians across party lines signed a petition to Prime Minister Theresa May to refer the Myanmar military to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The UN report accuses the military of genocide, and identifies six generals, singling them out for investigation and prosecution. They are, the senior general who heads the military, the commander of the army, and four operational commanders.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has now been authorized to begin a preliminary investigation to gather evidence before launching a full investigation. Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC but Bangladesh hosting the refugees is, thus giving the court jurisdiction.
Marzuki Darusman providing details of massacres and unmentionable atrocities said in reporting to the Human Rights Council, “I have never been confronted by crimes as horrendous and on such a scale as these.”
If the UN Security Council is to be stymied by veto — China preventing any action against Myanmar — will the ICC effort also fizzle out in practice if not in theory? Justice remains tenuous for the weak and powerless in our world.
Author’s Note: This article first appeared on counterpunch.org
ASEAN Summit 2023: Shaping Southeast Asia’s Future and Beyond
The 43rd ASEAN Summit held in Jakarta from September 5th to 7th, 2023, carries profound implications for the future of Southeast Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region. As I reflect on the outcomes of this summit, it is evident that ASEAN has reaffirmed its role as a vital regional player and a catalyst for cooperation and progress. The theme “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth” encapsulates the essence of this summit. It underscores that ASEAN is not merely a geographical region but a dynamic force at the heart of growth and development in the Indo-Pacific. This theme reflects a vision of ASEAN that is forward-looking, ambitious, and committed to addressing the multifaceted challenges of our times. The adoption of the ASEAN Concord IV, a comprehensive blueprint for ASEAN’s future, is a testament to the organization’s resolve. It emphasizes the importance of security, economic growth, and a broader regional role. It is noteworthy that ASEAN is not content with maintaining the status quo; instead, it seeks to shape the evolving dynamics of the Indo-Pacific, placing itself at the center of growth and stability.
Addressing security concerns within the region is paramount. The commitment to combating illicit drugs, maintaining a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, and upholding international maritime law in the South China Sea reflects ASEAN’s dedication to preserving regional stability. In a world marked by geopolitical tensions, these commitments send a clear message that ASEAN is committed to ensuring peace and security within its borders. Economic growth and sustainability are core principles embedded within the ASEAN Concord IV. The emphasis on balanced growth, economic disparities, innovation, and environmental sustainability demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of all ASEAN citizens. It recognizes that economic progress must be inclusive and sustainable to truly benefit the entire region. ASEAN’s expanding regional role, as outlined in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), is a significant development. It acknowledges the organization’s potential to influence the broader geopolitical landscape. By emphasizing the importance of international law and mechanisms for resolving regional disputes, ASEAN positions itself as a responsible and proactive player in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Myanmar crisis presents one of the most pressing challenges in the region. ASEAN’s condemnation of the violence and its commitment to the Five-Point Consensus, along with the Troika mechanism, reflect a united front to address this complex issue. While the path to resolution is challenging, ASEAN’s engagement sends a strong message that it is actively working toward a peaceful resolution. The gesture of welcoming Timor-Leste into the ASEAN family signifies an expansion of the organization’s influence. While details are yet to be finalized, this move reflects ASEAN’s willingness to embrace new members and deepen its regional engagement. The decision to elevate the ASEAN Secretariat to the status of the ASEAN Headquarters is a step towards enhancing the organization’s effectiveness. It reflects a recognition that a strong and centralized institution is essential for the successful implementation of ASEAN’s goals. Global engagement is also a key aspect of ASEAN’s vision. The organization’s concern for the Middle East conflict and its support for a two-state solution demonstrate a commitment to peace and stability beyond its immediate region. This reflects ASEAN’s aspiration to contribute positively to global affairs.
The 43rd ASEAN Summit in Jakarta has positioned ASEAN as a central force for unity, cooperation, and progress in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific. The adoption of the ASEAN Concord IV and the various commitments made during the summit reflect a vision of ASEAN that is forward-thinking, proactive, and committed to addressing regional and global challenges. As we move forward, it is crucial to recognize that ASEAN’s role extends beyond regional boundaries. It is a beacon of hope for collaborative and inclusive growth, a promoter of peace and security, and a responsible global player. In a world characterized by uncertainty, ASEAN’s resilience and determination offer a promising path for a better future not only for its member states but for the entire Indo-Pacific region and the world. The outcomes of the 43rd ASEAN Summit demonstrate that the organization’s principles, when translated into action, can shape the course of regional and global affairs, making it a cornerstone of stability and progress in the 21st century.
Beyond what has been discussed, the outcomes of the 43rd ASEAN Summit also shed light on several crucial aspects that warrant further examination in the realm of International Relations. One such aspect is the commitment to upholding international maritime law in the South China Sea. This commitment underscores the importance of maritime security and the complex web of territorial disputes in the region. It invites students and scholars of international relations to explore the intricate dynamics of maritime sovereignty, the role of international law, and the implications of these disputes on regional stability. Moreover, the ASEAN Concord IV’s emphasis on innovation resonates with the growing relevance of technology and innovation in global affairs. It encourages a deeper exploration of how technological advancements impact international relations, from cybersecurity challenges to the transformative potential of artificial intelligence. Understanding the nexus between technology and diplomacy becomes increasingly vital in an era of rapid technological change. The adoption of the Troika mechanism as part of the response to the Myanmar crisis offers a practical example of conflict resolution mechanisms within regional organizations. It invites students to analyze the effectiveness of such mechanisms and their potential application in other regional conflicts. The study of conflict resolution strategies is a fundamental component of international relations research and education. Furthermore, the summit’s focus on environmental sustainability aligns with the global discourse on climate change and ecological preservation. Students can delve into the implications of regional organizations like ASEAN engaging in environmental issues and the role they can play in advancing global environmental agendas, including the Paris Agreement. The potential expansion of ASEAN to include Timor-Leste prompts discussions on the dynamics of regional integration and the prerequisites for membership. It encourages students to explore the criteria and processes for joining regional organizations and the implications for both existing members and the prospective entrant. Such inquiries are central to the study of regionalism in international relations.
Biden’s ASEAN Summit Absence Sparks Multilateral Concerns
The recent convening of the 43rd ASEAN Summit in Jakarta serves as a poignant reminder of the pivotal role that multilateral cooperation continues to play in upholding peace, stability, and prosperity across the dynamic Asia-Pacific region. President Joe Biden’s conspicuous absence at the ASEAN Summit sends a clear message that the United States prioritizes rivalry over multilateral cooperation, as well as a penchant for narrowly defined alliances instead of comprehensive multilateral engagement.
This decision underscores a strategic focus in Washington – one that seeks to further its interests through alternative avenues. Such a move carries profound implications for regional dynamics. Even as the summit was postponed to accommodate the U.S. President’s schedule
It implies that the U.S. may increasingly lean towards pursuing its strategic interests through alternative pathways, possibly emphasizing bilateral or smaller multilateral arrangements. However, this approach risks undercutting the broader benefits that robust multilateral engagement offers, especially in a region as diverse and interconnected as the Asia-Pacific.
Multilateral cooperation, exemplified by forums such as the ASEAN Summit, provides an invaluable platform for addressing intricate regional challenges, facilitating dialogue, and bridging gaps among nations with diverse interests. By favoring more limited partnerships, the U.S. may inadvertently curtail its capacity to shape regional developments comprehensively and inclusively.
In the face of mounting geopolitical complexities, China stands out for its steadfast commitment to fostering collaboration and peaceful development. This commitment sharply contrasts with the United States’ preference for bilateral and “small-multilateral” formats.
China acknowledges the enduring value of multilateralism in promoting regional stability and development. Its engagement with ASEAN underscores cooperation, economic interdependence, and peaceful coexistence, aligning closely with the goal of establishing an atmosphere conducive to dialogue and collaboration.
The United States’ strategy towards ASEAN appears motivated by a desire to maintain the organization’s division rather than unity. Such instability aligns with Washington’s geopolitical interests in the region, as an unsettled ASEAN is perceived as more susceptible to U.S. influence and manipulation. This approach risks undermining ASEAN’s unity and its collective pursuit of shared objectives.
While some regional countries may be tempted to align more closely with the United States for various reasons, they must exercise caution and evaluate the potential implications of such alignment. The U.S. has displayed a willingness to foment chaos and turmoil in the region to enhance certain countries’ dependence on it. This approach poses significant risks to the stability and resilience of Asia-Pacific nations.
Over the past decade, China’s unwavering commitment to a comprehensive strategic partnership with ASEAN has yielded numerous benefits for the region. Expanding trade between China and ASEAN underscores the importance of open markets and economic interdependence on a global scale.
China’s support for pragmatic collaboration initiatives has not only spurred economic prosperity but also facilitated cultural exchange and people-to-people interactions throughout Southeast Asia. This approach, founded on principles of shared growth and mutual benefit, aligns seamlessly with ASEAN’s tenets, bolstering the organization’s influence in regional affairs.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s declaration to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea with ASEAN countries and work towards a “Code of Conduct” underscores China’s unwavering commitment to transforming the South China Sea into a region characterized by peace, friendship, and cooperation.
Throughout its history, ASEAN’s resilience and centrality have remained defining features. This resilience empowers ASEAN to withstand external pressures and manipulation, ensuring its decisions reflect the collective interests of its member states. The China-ASEAN alliance strengthens this resilience, safeguarding ASEAN’s independence and its ability to carve out its destiny.
As the United States continues to pursue its geopolitical objectives through diverse means, the Asia-Pacific region finds itself at a crucial juncture. ASEAN members must remain steadfast in adhering to the principles of dialogue, cooperation, and peaceful growth that have underpinned the organization’s success for decades.
In this context, China’s unwavering support for ASEAN’s vision and its resolute commitment to multilateralism become all the more significant. China contributes to regional stability and development by promoting cooperation, economic growth, and people-to-people exchanges, reinforcing ASEAN’s pivotal role as a critical force for peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.
Each ASEAN meeting serves as a litmus test for genuine multilateralism, with participating nations carefully identifying between actors genuinely seeking collaboration and those knowingly contributing to conflict. Given the current political climate, Washington’s policy decisions have huge repercussions, with any miscalculation potentially leading to unfavourable outcomes and increased diplomatic discontent.
Consequently, the United States must carefully weigh the long-term repercussions of its approach and strike a judicious balance between bilateral alliances and active engagement in global forums. A more comprehensive and inclusive engagement strategy in the Asia-Pacific can foster trust, spur collaboration, and secure a future marked by peace and prosperity for all nations in the region.
Regulating Quality Journalism: A Mission Impossible Against Algorithm
Authors: Hanif Abdul Halim and Haekal Al Asyari*
Due to the shift in modes of communication from mass to personalized media; concerns of digital platforms monopolizing the news have risen. Several issues surrounding publisher rights, disinformation, and journalist ethics become a wakeup call for legislators.
The idea of a regulation that holds global digital platforms responsible for providing economic value to news content produced by local and national media has surfaced since National Press Day in 2020. On the commemoration of National Press Day last February, President Joko Widodo requested the Ministry of Communication and Informatics, the Press Council, and related stakeholders to finalize the clauses regarding publisher rights that will be included in the Presidential Decree Bill.
The Indonesian media industry has been anxious for quite some time with the presence of applications such as Baca Berita (Babe) which seem to gain more profit from news content than the media outlets that produce it. With the Bill including publisher rights, the media will receive some form of royalty for content distributed on digital platforms such as search engines (Google), social media (Facebook or X), and news aggregators (Google News, Yahoo News, LINE News) that fetches media content with no revenue share. Until today, the Bill in question ‘Presidential Regulation (Perpres) concerning Digital Platform Responsibility for Quality Journalism’ still awaits the President’s approval.
The Bill’s pain points
Seeing its purpose, the draft regulation considers several things related to the responsibility of digital platform companies to prevent fake news and respect for copyrights. Such companies are expected to be responsible for supporting quality journalism by upholding information sovereignty and algorithm transparency. In addition, media companies and digital platforms are also asked to work together regarding profit sharing to protect publisher rights.
However, the Bill is also seen as a threat by digital platforms and content creators. There are at least two issues of the draft that must be highlighted. First is the potential for abuse of power from the government which could endanger freedom of information. This is based on the obligation of digital platform companies to prevent the dissemination and commercialization of content that is deemed to not be in accordance with the Journalistic Code of Ethics. According to article 7(b) of the Bill, Digital platforms are required to remove content which are inconsistent with the Journalistic Code of Ethics based on recommendations from the Press Council. Currently, anyone could make a living in the digital realm if they understand the rules of the game. However, the presence of this regulation will give the Press Council power over which content creators could be monetized and which cannot.
Second, the public is also worried that in the future digital platforms would oppose to the regulation or even threaten to leave Indonesia if the Bill is left unrevised. Until now, at least two platform companies (Meta and Google) have expressed their objections. Google has stated that if the draft is issued without revisions, it could potentially limit news online and only benefit a small number of conventional media companies, leaving a negative impact on the digital news ecosystem.
Quality journalism and digital platforms
For the most part, quality journalism aims to uncover and educate readers about facts that are matters of public concerns by keeping with journalistic ethics of independence, transparency, trustworthiness, and objectivity. But it is a contention whether all digital platforms involve themselves in the activities of journalism and whether adherence to the code of ethics could ensure quality.
The Bill assumes digital platforms to be under the same scope of ‘journalists’ bound by the Journalistic Code of Ethics. According to the Code, they are expected to act independently, produce news that is accurate, balanced and in good faith. Furthermore, Digital platforms would be expected to fact-check the information, as well as to immediately retract, correct, and verify inaccurate news accompanied by an apology to its readers, listeners and or viewers. This would also apply to user generated content (“UGC”) since the Code of Ethics is synchronized with the Cyber Media reporting guidelines.
The algorithmic dilemma
The stressing point is who will determine whether a journalistic product is in accordance with the Code or not. For those who are in favor of the Bill, believe that the Journalistic Code of Ethics must be trusted to the Press Council as the institution possessing legal basis. With a note that the ‘executors’ of the bill ought to be independent, professional, and free from the interests of the Government, digital platforms or media companies.
On the contrary, those who are against the Bill criticizes the danger of granting authority to a non-governmental body the power to determine what content appears online and which news publishers are allowed to earn advertising revenue.
It is a contestation between the longstanding presence of the Press Council as a main actor in protecting freedom of the press and the inevitable algorithm of digital platforms. The speed and accuracy of the algorithms owned by Meta, Google, and others alike in recent years have become the answer to people’s needs for fast and accurate information. The algorithm allows search engines to move in a fraction of a second, presenting news personalized according to our interests.
Regulating digital platforms and news media
Efforts to regulate news and the digital media are not only carried out in Indonesia. In 2022 the Government of Canada issued a law to ensure fair profit sharing between digital platforms and news providers as well as strengthen media collective bargaining. The Canadian government observed the dominance of platform companies in the media ecosystem to be unbalanced because of platform providers earning far greater profits compared to media companies that produced the news.
Similarly, the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) was issued to regulate the relationship between digital platforms and conventional media, stipulating that conventional media can request special treatment from digital platforms in relation to the way their content is moderated. Such special treatment includes platforms providing reasons why content will be rented and guarantees that their complaints will be ‘processed and resolved with priority and without undue delay’. If the media find that their content or news is often stung – if not removed – by digital platforms, then the act provides space for media and digital platforms to amicably solve their disputes.
Ensuring freedom of information
One of the signs of deteriorating media industry is the decline of conventional media newsroom; despite their presence of guarding the nation for decades. The impact that digital companies have had on this situation is difficult to deny. With their system and algorithm, digital platforms could become an oligopoly group that controls the mass media market in Indonesia.
All in all, the Government’s support behind the Bill is motivated by the best of intentions. However, it should be kept in mind that ensuring quality journalism must always be well balanced with the freedom of information and public interest.
*Haekal Al Asyari is a Law Lecturer at Universitas Gadjah Mada and a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Law, University of Debrecen, Hungary.
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