Coup in Myanmar
As outlined in the Main Committee report, the violent military coup in Myanmar has nullified the results of the elections, and been followed by attacks on protestors and civil society. The Australian Greens fully support the Main Committee report, and its eight recommendations.
In addition to those recommendations, the Australian Greens reiterate earlier calls for the Australian Government to urgently impose targeted sanctions on key generals involved in the coup (2 February 2021, 11 February 2021). The Australian Government’s failure to act must be rectified.
In its evidence to an earlier inquiry, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated (Submission 63):
Should Government decide to pursue a Magnitsky-style, thematic human rights-based sanctions regime, this could be done through an amendment to the Autonomous Sanctions Regulations 2011 within the existing sanctions framework …
This indicates that despite the Australian Government’s failure to act on a Magnitsky framework, capacity exists for sanctions under the current framework.
As outlined in the Main Committee report, DFAT has stated in relation to sanctions that there would likely be “very little, if any, positive impact to the people on the ground”. Subsequently, the Foreign Minister stated that the Government “keeps its position on sanctions under review” (Senate Estimates, 3 June 2021).
Despite this inaction from the Australian Government, those in Myanmar have called for sanctions. As reported in the Guardian (18 May, 2021):
Nearly 400 civil society organisations inside Myanmar have written an open letter to the foreign minister, Marise Payne, condemning Australia’s “shameful inaction” and urging it to impose new sanctions to de-legitimise the military regime and squeeze its sources of foreign funding.
“We 390 civil society organisations across Myanmar are shocked by Australia’s continued inaction on Myanmar, which emboldens the terrorist military junta,” the letter sent to Payne reads.
Key international actors have also imposed targeted sanctions. As outlined by the Australian Council for International Development (1 June, 2021):
… Australia is out of step with international efforts to end the violent coup in Myanmar.
Together, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union have imposed sanctions on a total of 38 individuals and 17 entities associated with the junta.
Since Myanmar’s military seized power from the democratically elected government on 1 February this year, the Australian Government has imposed no new sanctions on military leaders or their business interests.
As outlined in the Main Committee report, sanctions against key generals should also cover the Tatmadaw entities they control, including MEC (Myanmar Economic Corporation) and Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL).
The Foreign Minister Payne stated that a decision on sanctions will be shaped by its assessment of the national interest: “If there is a decision to impose sanctions, we will do that when it's appropriate, if it's appropriate and if it's in the national interest to do so.” (Senate Estimates, 3 June 2021).
The Australian Greens believe applying targeted sanctions against human rights abusers, in an ASEAN neighbour where democratic norms have been violently overturned, is clearly in Australia’s national interest.
The Government has also indicated that it believes that ASEAN should be leading in terms of pressure on the junta. We believe there is a very strong role for Australia to play to encourage ASEAN to take strong action, and that targeted sanctions by the Australian Government would send a clear signal to ASEAN neighbours. As our former Ambassador to Myanmar, Nicholas Coppel has stated in The Australian (18 May, 2021):
However, in considering whether Australia should sanction the coup leader and other senior personnel we need to have regard also to how our action will be received by the people of Myanmar, and by the member states of ASEAN who are the only hope of engaging him. Targeted sanctions should not be seen as cancel culture practised by nation states or a symptom of Western saviourism. They serve more than symbolic purpose. They are an expression of values and they seek to articulate and establish norms for international behaviour.
The people of Myanmar are looking to the international community for support, especially from liberal democracies like Australia.
It gives them hope and encouragement to sustain their struggle. And while our neighbours in Asia will not join the chorus they will not be surprised that we speak out (as they have seen us do on many other international issues) and it will give more leverage to the less confrontational style of ASEAN….
It’s time to sanction coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, his murderous henchmen and their business interests.
Recommendation: That the Australian Government urgently impose targeted sanctions on key generals involved in the coup.
If the Australian Government continues to fail to act on this issue, then it should provide a clear statement to the Australian Parliament of why it has chosen not to impose sanctions.
Recommendation: That if the Australian Government continues to refuse to impose targeted sanctions, the Foreign Minister should provide a statement to the Parliament outlining the rationale.
Senator Janet Rice
Australian Greens spokesperson on Foreign Affairs