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Locsin: Abstaining from vote on draft UN resolution on Rohingya crisis 'the right thing'

A Rohingya Muslim girl Shafiqa Begum, who spent four days in the open after crossing over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, holds her sister Sameera, as her brother Sadiq plays with their belongings at Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. More than 580,000 refugees have arrived in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Myanmar security forces began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages. Myanmar's government has said it was responding to attacks by Muslim insurgents, but the United Nations and others have said the response was disproportionate. AP/Dar Yasin

MANILA, Philippines — “It is the right thing.”

Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations Teddy Boy Locsin Jr. on Saturday vowed to push for Manila’s abstention on a draft UN resolution pressuring Myanmar to end military campaign against Rohingya Muslims in the country’s Rakhine state.

This was after the Philippines, together with nine other UN member-states, voted not to support the draft resolution adopted by the General Assembly’s human rights committee. The non-binding measure now goes to the full assembly for debate next month.

In an online exchange with journalists, Locsin said the Philippines should have abstained from voting on the UN resolution “in deference to the Muslim and non-Muslim member states of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).”

“It will be different when it goes to plenary. I will push for abstention. It is the right thing,” Locsin said in a Twitter post, adding that a “yes” vote would be “divisive” and would “kill” ASEAN.

“ASEAN cannot stop the genocide of Rohingya. We adhere to unanimity and non-intervention,” he added.

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Violence came to Rakhine State in late August after Rohingya militants launched offensives against state outposts, sparking a deadly crackdown by the Burmese military that was met with strong international condemnation.

More than 600,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled Myanmar since the military operation erupted in Rakhine. The UN earlier denounced the situation in the predominantly Buddhist country as a classic example of “ethnic cleansing.”

In the resolution, UN member-states said they were “highly alarmed” by the violence and “disproportionate use of force by the Myanmar forces” against the Rohingya.

It also asks UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to appoint a special envoy on Myanmar.

Apart from the Philippines—Russia, China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Syria, Zimbabwe and Belarus did not vote for the measure. On the other hand, 135 voted in favor of the draft resolution while 26 countries abstained.

At the end of 31st ASEAN summit in Manila, the Philippines—which chairs the 10-member regional bloc this year—did not mention in its chairman’s statement the more than half a million Rohingya who have fled the troubled territory.

The communique, however, cited the need for “increased humanitarian access to Myanmar’s Rakhine State.”

They also voiced support for Myanmar’s “efforts to bring peace, stability, rule of law and to promote harmony and reconciliation between the various communities, as well as sustainable and equitable development in Rakhine State.”

FULL TEXT: Chairman’s statement for the 31st ASEAN Summit

Meanwhile, the UN chief, who also took part in the regional summit in Manila, expressed alarm over the tragic plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar in remarks before that country's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

‘Isolation would only add to the difficulty’

Justifying the Philippines’ opposition against the draft UN resolution, Malacañang also on Saturday said the crisis in the Rakhine State is a “complex” one, adding that singling out Myanmar would not do any good.

The Palace also said ASEAN leaders have been briefed about Myanmar’s efforts in addressing the issue, including the setting up of an advisory commission on Rakhine State led by former UN Secretary-General Dr. Kofi Annan.

“We believe that isolation and censure would only add to the difficulty the people there are now facing. This explains the vote of the Philippines in the UN resolution,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.

“We have expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in the Rakhine State. We are fully aware that it has deep historical roots and we acknowledge Myanmar’s efforts towards resolving the issues faced in the Rakhine State,” he added.

Human Rights Watch said the vote sent “a strong message to Myanmar that the world will not stand by while its military engages in ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.”

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