Australia urged to take action against Myanmar junta

Hundreds of NGOs and civil society groups have pressed the Australian government to take action against Myanmar’s military junta with sanctions and other measures.

More than 688 NGOs and civil society groups sent a letter to Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong asking her to take a stand for democracy in Myanmar by imposing sanctions and standing by comments she made before the election.

They also appealed to her to impose targeted sanctions against the military and its businesses, to recognize the National Unity Government as the legitimate government and to urge the UN Security Council to impose a global arms embargo on the junta.

There have been more than 10,000 armed clashes and indiscriminate attacks on civilians through airstrikes and shelling, while more than one million people have been displaced and thousands of homes have been torched in villages, according to the letter.

“ASEAN has repeatedly invited the junta to meetings, events and military training, providing cover for ASEAN members and Australia to engage with war criminals, emboldening their crimes in Australia’s name,” the groups said in the letter dated June 29.

“Australia cannot be a bystander to a direct attack on Myanmar’s democracy,” Wong said before the election, adding that she called on the government “to take a stand for democracy in Myanmar and to impose targeted sanctions.”

Australia has yet to impose targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s military junta even its allies — the US, UK and Canada — have slapped sanctions against military leaders, their families and their businesses.

Australian professor Sean Turnell, who was a senior adviser to ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, remains in prison after he was detained four days after the February 2021 coup.

He was charged with violating Myanmar’s immigration and official secrets acts by trying to leave the country with sensitive financial information.

The junta has ramped up its abuses and continues committing atrocities such as mass killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and indiscriminate attacks on civilians which the UN said amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Backed by the UN, the US and the European Union, ASEAN has been leading diplomatic efforts to tackle Myanmar’s political crisis but has been ineffective in pressuring the military regime.

ASEAN special envoy Prak Sokhonn has begun his second working visit to Myanmar from June 29 to July 3 since the non-implementation of ASEAN’s five-point peace plan by military chief Min Aung Hlaing after initially agreeing to it at the ASEAN summit in Jakarta in April 2021.

Local observers say the visit will not bring tangible results with little chance of meeting deposed leader Suu Kyi and little trust in the 10-member bloc among the people of Myanmar.

Nearly 2,100 people including more than 100 children have been killed and over 14,000 detained since the coup.