Australia: Sanction Myanmar’s Coup Leaders

January 27th, 2022  •  Author:   Human Rights Watch  •  4 minute read
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Groups Urge Canberra to Act Ahead of Military Takeover Anniversary

Demonstrators in Yangon protest the military coup in Myanmar, December 4, 2021. © 2021 Santosh Krl / SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP Images

(Sydney) – The Australian government, one year after Myanmar’s February 1, 2021 military coup, should impose targeted sanctions on Myanmar’s abusive military leaders and their business interests, six nongovernmental organizations said in a letter to Foreign Minister Marise Payne released today.

Joint Letter to Australian Foreign Minister – Targeted Sanctions Against Myanmar’s Coup Leaders 

In December the Australian government passed amendments to enable targeted sanctions against serious human rights abusers, but the sanctions have not been used. In the past year governments such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union have imposed various targeted sanctions against Myanmar individuals and entities.

The letter was signed by the Australian Centre for International Justice, Australian Council for International Development, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Human Rights Watch, Publish What You Pay, and the Refugee Council of Australia.

Since the Myanmar military overthrew the elected civilian government last year, the Australian government has not imposed any additional sanctions on military leaders or their business interests. Since then, the military junta has carried out a nationwide crackdown on anti-junta protesters and the political opposition that amounts to crimes against humanity.

State security forces have killed more than 1,500 people, most recently the horrific summary execution of at least 39 people, including 4 children and 2 humanitarian workers, in Karenni State, yet no one has been held accountable for these crimes. Australia should demonstrate its strong public opposition to these atrocities by announcing targeted sanctions on February 1, 2022, the organizations said.

On January 27, the Australian company Woodside, a natural gas producer, announced it was exiting from Myanmar, underscoring the need for coordinated and targeted sanctions from Australia, the US, EU, and other concerned governments on Myanmar’s natural gas revenues.

The letter to Australia’s foreign minister lists the individuals and entities who should face sanctions. Acting on that list should serve as a starting point for the Australian government to harmonize its position on Myanmar with like-minded governments.

Quotes from signatories to the letter:

“Australia should mark the one-year anniversary of Myanmar’s coup by joining join its allies in imposing targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s abusive generals and military-owned businesses. The Australian government should heed the calls of people in both Australia and Myanmar to help deprive the military of its revenue sources and to maximize pressure on the junta to end its campaign of terror.”

Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch

“The Australian government needs to act by introducing targeted sanctions, and not just wring its hands. The Myanmar generals stand accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya people and snuffing out democratic government, and attacking their own people for voicing democratic aspirations. When will the Australian government stand up for freedom and democracy?”

Marc Purcell, chief executive officer of the Australian Council for International Development

“A year on from the military coup in Myanmar, the Morrison government has failed to introduce further sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and business interests – putting Australia behind likeminded countries like the US, UK and EU. Workers in Myanmar are risking their lives to protest the military takeover while the Morrison government sits idly by, when they should be taking action to support democracy.”

Michele O’Neil, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)

“The mining, oil and gas sectors are like an ATM for Myanmar’s murderous military. The Australian government should introduce sanctions that will outlaw Australian mining, oil and gas companies lining the pockets of the generals with tax and royalty payments.”

Clancy Moore, Australian director of Publish What You Pay


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