More than 250 rights groups and charities have called on the international police agency Interpol to exclude a top figure in Myanmar’s junta from its General Assembly on Tuesday, echoing similar calls last week by the National Unity Government (NUG).
Lt-Gen Than Hlaing, the junta’s deputy home affairs minister and head of the Myanmar Police Force, will lead Myanmar’s delegation for the three-day assembly in the Turkish city of Istanbul.
The US, Canada, the EU, and the UK have sanctioned Than Hlaing for his role in overseeing the junta’s murderous crackdown on opponents to the February 1 military coup.
In a letter addressed to Interpol’s leadership and member countries, 259 groups said the junta’s participation in the agency created “serious credibility issues”.
The letter is signed by organisations including ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, the Burma Human Rights Network, Civicus, the International Trade Union Confederation, the Karen Organization of America and Progressive Voice.
“Instead of legitimising the military junta through Interpol membership, we appeal to you to uphold international law by supporting the ongoing investigation at the International Criminal Court concerning crimes of genocide against the Rohingya, and future investigations, to bring all perpetrators of Myanmar atrocities to account,” the letter said.
Last week, 106 South Korean civil society groups wrote to Interpol President Kim Jong Yang to propose that the agency instead invite members of the underground NUG, which was founded to challenge the legitimacy of the junta.
“Interpol is giving legitimacy to the Myanmar military junta and working against the will of the Myanmar people,” said Kinam Kim, a lawyer with Korean Civil Society in Support of Democracy in Myanmar, one of the groups behind the letter.
“This must be condemned,” he added. “If the Korean government does not veto the participation of these criminals in the Interpol General Assembly, then they are going against their own commitment to discontinue cooperation with the Myanmar military junta.”
In a statement to Myanmar Now, Interpol confirmed that Myanmar was due to attend the assembly on Tuesday but that “the final list of member countries actually in attendance will not be available until the event opens.”
The agency also declined to confirm the names of the Myanmar delegates. “It is the decision of each member country to provide details of their delegation,” it said.
The assembly would be held in-person and “only individuals actually in attendance can be considered delegates and vote on resolutions,” the statement said, adding that Interpol’s constitution forbids interventions of a political, military or racial character.
Myanmar Now contacted several Interpol member countries for comment on Than Hlaing’s participation and to ask if they are taking steps to prevent junta representatives from attending the assembly.
Both the Australian Federal Police, the New Zealand Police and Norwegian Police Directorate confirmed their attendance at the General Assembly but would not comment on Myanmar’s participation.
A spokesperson for the Swedish Police Authority said that some Interpol member countries are undemocratic and acknowledged there had been concerns about members using the organisation for political purposes.
“All the joint actions we, the Swedish Police Authority, support or participate in, are thoroughly considered in terms of compliance with human rights,” the spokesperson said. “Furthermore, we believe that standing outside the Interpol would be less effective as it would weaken our measures to combat cross-border crimes.”
A spokesperson for the UK’s National Crime Agency said that “membership of Interpol is a matter for Interpol Secretariat General (IPSG), guided by the General Assembly” and that “all members are entitled to attend” the assembly.
A spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) would not comment on Myanmar’s participation in INTERPOL but said that “attending annual meetings, such as the INTERPOL General Assembly, allows us to build relationships with our international partners and work closely with law enforcement agencies around the world. These relationships are fundamental to our ability to ensure Canada responds to globalized threats.”
The US Department of Justice declined to comment. Myanmar Now also contacted officials in Ireland, the Netherlands, the Maldives and the Gambia but did not receive a response.
Khin Ohmar of Progressive Voice said that member police forces have human rights responsibilities and therefore need to proactively prevent Myanmar’s junta from participating in Interpol.
“The Myanmar Police Force is under the direct control of the illegitimate military junta, which is a criminal gang and a perpetrator of cross-border crime,” she said. “Allowing these international criminals to be part of Interpol only emboldens them to continue to perpetrate crimes with impunity.”