By AMANDA HODGE
Hundreds of civil society organisations have urged Southeast Asian leaders to exclude Myanmar from an ASEAN defence ministers’ meeting amid concerns the regional bloc’s resolve to freeze out junta figures until it comes to the negotiating table is weakening.
An open letter signed by 677 regional and global rights organisations called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to honour its human rights charter and disinvite Myanmar defence Minister Mya Tun Oo – a senior general in a military responsible for “ongoing atrocity crimes” – from next Wednesday’s meeting.
“We welcome ASEAN’s exclusion of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing from the 2021 ASEAN summit, and the exclusion of foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin from the 2022 Foreign Ministers’ Retreat (but) note with concern” the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting’s reticence to exclude senior Myanmar defence officials from events, the letter said.
“ADMM’s engagement with the junta, which has included military exercises, may likely amount to the aiding and abetting of the junta’s war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Myanmar activists say ASEAN inconsistency in enforcing its own five-point plan to resolve the crisis, caused by the February 2021 military coup, was lending legitimacy to a regime accused of crimes against humanity.
“ASEAN is complicit in the Myanmar military’s international crimes through military support provided under ADMM that enables the junta’s deliberate acts of violence against the Myanmar people,” Justice for Myanmar’s Yadanar Maung told The Australian.
Australia’s continued engagement with the junta through ASEAN – former defence minister Peter Dutton attended ASEAN defence meetings last year – also provided “propaganda for a military that murders and tortures its own people”, Ms Maung added, calling on Canberra to boycott all meetings in which the junta participated.
The UN issued fresh condemnation of the Myanmar junta on Tuesday, with Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet warning the human rights situation in the country was rapidly declining.
“What we are witnessing today is the systematic and widespread use of tactics against civilians, in respect of which there are reasonable grounds to believe the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes,” Ms Bachelet told the Human Rights Council.
Since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, it has killed at least 1900 civilians and caused the internal displacement of a million more, while 14 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, she said.
Ms Bachelet said she was “deeply troubled” by reports the junta was trying to “militarise whole communities”.
“My Office has also received reports that they have launched an initiative to enlist local firefighters, Red Cross workers and other public service groups into the security apparatus,” she said.
Frontier Myanmar reported earlier this month on the emergence of pro-military death squads now targeting members of Suu Kyi’s ousted National League for Democracy and the People’s Defence Forces (civilian militia units formed to counter junta violence), and uploading images of their victims to Facebook and Telegram.