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Australia must not follow ASEAN’s lead in Myanmar response, say ASEAN MPs

On 9 September 2021, over 60 former and current parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia have signed an open letter to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, urging his administration to take urgent action to support human rights and democracy in Myanmar, and express concern about its stated policy to wait on action by the ASEAN. 

Police officers in Karenni state participate in the civil obedience protest on 6 March 2021. (Source: Khit Thit Media)

"Although many of us had hoped ASEAN would rise to the occasion and formulate an effective response to the Myanmar crisis, in recent months it has become abundantly clear that the bloc has failed at all levels. ASEAN's response has been not only lethargic, but also dangerous, by emboldening the military," said Charles Santiago, chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (MP), and a Malaysian Member of Parliament (MP).

Despite an initial meeting on 24 April 2021, during which ASEAN Member States reached a Five-Point Consensus, little further action has taken place. It took four months for ASEAN to reach an agreement to appoint on 2 August the second Foreign Minister of Brunei Darussalam, Erywan Yusof, as its Special Envoy.

We would, however, welcome with caution this appointment. It is important to keep in mind that the Minister, as the representative of ASEAN’s Chair, has led the bloc’s ineffective response so far, including a delegation to Myanmar in June, during which he not only met solely with the junta, but also pushed their narrative that elections could take place, even suggesting that ASEAN sends monitors. We are also concerned that the Minister of an absolute monarchy that does not abide by international human rights standards has been tasked with convincing a murderous army to respect these principles.

Furthermore, no humanitarian aid has been provided so far, and ASEAN is still yet to engage all relevant parties in Myanmar, in particular the National Unity Government.

A part of the open letter from APHR

“As representatives of the people of ASEAN, we urge Australia to hold true to its democratic principles and foundations, and not hide behind the harmful response of its undemocratic neighbors,” Santiago said. “Australia should be a strong regional partner to the people of Myanmar and the people of Southeast Asia, not our region's authoritarian leaders, who are working together to protect themselves from scrutiny and accountability." 

The signed letter was partly in response to comments made by Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne in June, who said that placing targeted sanctions on the Myanmar military would not advance Australia's interests, as well as "interests in supporting the ASEAN-led solution and the ASEAN efforts that are being made." 

"Time and again, rather than standing up for the Myanmar people, who could not have made their rejection of the military any clearer, ASEAN has kowtowed to the murderous junta, by inviting its representatives to official meetings, granting it a veto over the choice of a special envoy, and even watering down a UN General Assembly statement aimed at preventing the sale of arms to the regime," said Kasit Piromya, an APHR Board Member and former Thai Foreign Minister. 

The MPs urged the Australian government to follow the actions of democratic allies including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union, who have placed targeted sanctions against the military and its business interests, including its major conglomerates, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). 

"It's crucial that the military's business interests are targeted as heavily as possible, since it’s revenues from these entities that fund their deadly campaigns against the people, including killing more than 1,000 people since the coup," Piromya said. "In addition, in contrast to ASEAN's actions so far, Australia's government must not lend any form of legitimacy to the regime, and should instead formally engage with the democratically-elected representatives of Myanmar, including the National Unity Government (NUG)," Piromya said. 


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