Civil society groups call on Western governments to bolster sanctions, stop “lending legitimacy” to Myanmar junta

November 14th, 2023  •  Author:   Myanmar Now  •  4 minute read
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An open letter endorsed by hundreds of groups accused Finland and Switzerland of emboldening and enabling abuses by junta officials, while another urged Australia to expand its Myanmar sanctions list

Hundreds of advocacy organisations urged more severe restrictions on the Myanmar regime and its associates this month and denounced Western governments’ alleged attempts to engage with junta officials.

In an open letter dated November 2 —addressed to Australian minister of foreign affairs Penny Wong—the Australian-based Myanmar Campaign Network (MCN) and more than 400 other civil society organisations requested that the government expand its sanctions list to target more entities and individuals associated with and enriching the Myanmar junta.

The prospective targets specified in the open letter included various state-owned businesses and banks in Myanmar, the junta-controlled election commission and its members, arms brokers, aviation fuel suppliers, and companies in the oil, gas, mining, timber, and gemstone industries.

According to Clancy Moore—the head of Transparency International Australia, which endorsed the November 2 open letter—by turning a blind eye to the coup regime’s crimes and continuing to conduct business in Myanmar, Australian investors are helping the coup regime gain international legitimacy.

Another open letter, released on November 10 by the research and advocacy organisation Progressive Voice Myanmar (PV), also criticised the governments of Finland and Switzerland for actions “lending legitimacy” to the junta.

The letter was endorsed by 661 civil society organisations and addressed to Finnish foreign affairs minister Elina Valtonen and Swiss foreign affairs councillor Ignazio Cassis.

In the letter, PV and the other advocacy groups criticised alleged attempts by both governments to send humanitarian assistance to Myanmar via regime-controlled channels, which they said could be used to “weaponize” aid through selective distribution and delivery as well as legitimise the regime and “whitewash” its crimes.

The organisations also condemned the Swiss government’s alleged arrangement of a workshop with military officials in Naypyitaw in October and the Finnish government’s alleged invitation of junta officials to a recent “secret meeting” in Helsinki, accusing Finland–a member of the European Union (EU)–of “undermin[ing] international sanctions” through its actions.

Since the 2021 military coup in Myanmar, the EU, the United States (US), Canada, and the United Kingdom have targeted a number of the Myanmar military’s top generals as well as their various cronies, businesses, and other connected individuals and entities with sanctions.

In February 2023, the Australian government imposed sanctions on Myanmar individuals and entities for the first time since the military coup of two years earlier.

The Australian sanctions targeted the military-owned conglomerates Myanma Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation and 16 individuals that were part of or connected with the regime, including junta chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and deputy chair of the military council Soe Win.

However, the civil society organisations noted in the open letter to the Australian foreign minister that the government’s sanctions “account for just 2% of international sanctions against Myanmar.”

Moreover, since imposing sanctions the Australian government has drawn criticism for co-hosting an Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting attended by Myanmar junta officials, a decision that Penny Wong and other Australian officials defended despite the potential for legitimising the regime.

The Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), one of the primary sources of foreign revenue for the Myanmar military regime, was sanctioned by the EU in February 2022. The US Treasury also announced at the end of October that they would prohibit the provision of financial services to MOGE starting from December 15.

In June, the treasury had also imposed sanctions on the Myanma Foreign Trading Bank and Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank, severely impeding the junta’s access to American dollars and other foreign currencies.

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