Statement 239 Views

Request to Support Democratic Representation of Myanmar People at Upcoming ASEAN Meetings Involving New Zealand

April 8th, 2024  •  Author:   438 Organizations  •  9 minute read
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TO:

Government of New Zealand
Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade
Rt Hon Winston Peters MP
Minister for Defence
The Hon. Judith Collins KC MP
Ambassador to ASEAN
H.E. Mr. Kevin Burnett, ONZM

CC:

ASEAN
Secretary-General
H.E. Dr. Kao Kim Hourn
National Unity Government, Myanmar
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Daw Zin Mar Aung
Minister for Defence
U Yee Mon

6 April 2024

Subject: Request to support democratic representation of Myanmar people at upcoming ASEAN meetings involving New Zealand

Dear New Zealand Government leaders,

We, the undersigned organisations, are writing this open letter to you to request your public support for the human rights of Myanmar people in relation to the upcoming 31st ASEAN-New Zealand Dialogue hosted in Wellington on April 18 and 19, and the ASEAN Regional Forum Defence Officials Dialogue and Inter-Sessional Support Group Meeting on Confidence Building Measures and Preventative Diplomacy, co-chaired by New Zealand in Vientiane from May 8 to 10, 2024.

Specifically, we request that:

  1. representatives of the military junta and their appointees who are currently illegally occupying many of Myanmar’s national institutions of government be excluded from these meetings;
  2. military junta representatives and their appointees be banned from all future ASEAN
    meetings hosted and/or co-chaired by New Zealand;
  3. the people of Myanmar be represented at these meetings by their democratically elected leaders, the National Unity Government;

If military junta representatives are not excluded from these meetings due to ASEAN protocols, we appeal to the Government of New Zealand to:

  1. postpone chairmanship of ASEAN entities and/or decline hosting meetings that include military junta representatives;
  2. boycott any other ASEAN meetings that include military junta representatives;

In any case, we further request your government’s support through:

  1. initiating formal and public engagements with principal representatives of Myanmar’s
    democratically elected National Unity Government; and
  2. taking the necessary steps to adopt targeted sanctions against the military junta, especially the financial and business entities it controls.

We would like to underline the fact that the Myanmar military junta is not, by any definition, a government and therefore has no legitimacy to represent the people of Myanmar in ASEAN meetings and activities. As you would be aware, a democratic general election was held in Myanmar on November 8, 2020. In a landslide victory, the voters elected a government led by the incumbent National League for Democracy party. Independent national and international election observers unanimously concludedni i that the election was free and fair, and the result represented the will of the Myanmar people.

Yet, on February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military launched an illegal coup attempt. Since then, an illegal and illegitimate military junta has seized multiple institutions of government, including domestic ministries, central bank, overseas embassies and the former national chambers of commerce and industry, and attempted to pose as the government of Myanmar. The junta refers to itself as the State Administrative Council (SAC), even though it has neither the authority to hold government office nor effective control over the majority of Myanmar’s territories, which are under the administration of the democratic resistance movement and ethnic administration Bodies.

Meanwhile, the remaining elected members ofthegovernment and parliament (the ‘Pyidaungsu Hluttaw’ in Burmese) formed the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) and then the National Unity Government (NUG based on the mandate gained from the 2020 election results. Thus, the appropriate, legitimate and democratically elected representatives of Myanmar people in all international fora, including ASEAN and related meetings, are the National Unity Government (NUG).

Under the guise of the SAC, the military junta has engaged in a nationwide campaign of heinous crimes against the people of Myanmar in an attempt to suppress and control them. To date, the military has killed over 4,700 people, and arrested more than 26,000 including the President, State Counsellor, elected members of parliament, journalists, pro-democracy activists, religious leaders and others. Over 20,000 remain incarcerated. The military has committed massacres, indiscriminate airstrikes, artillery shelling, sexual and gender-based violence, mass torture and mass arson. As a result of these crimes, over 2.8 million people are now internally displaced. Further, the military junta is now engaging in illegal forced recruitment of Myanmar people to serve its own purposes, which is causing mass exodus of those targeted and contributing to increased regional instability.

Such atrocities amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed by the same military that stands accused of genocide and other gross crimes against the Rohingya before the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and in the universal jurisdiction case in Argentina.

Therefore, it must be understood that the military junta is not a professional armed force under civilian control that defends the people of Myanmar from external threats. Rather, the junta is an illegal criminal organisation that was formed by the Myanmar military, and it is strongly rejected by the people of Myanmar. Further, the military junta meets the criteria for a terrorist organisation under both Myanmar national law and as defined in international law. Thus, it would be an affront to democracy and the people of Myanmar to include a member or appointee of the military junta as an international representative of Myanmar.

When foreign governments engage with the military junta as though it were a government, and/or invite the junta’s appointees and associates to represent Myanmar people in
intergovernmental meetings this risks significant harms for the people of Myanmar, including:

  • decisions being made illegitimately on behalf of Myanmar people;
  • legitimising the Myanmar military junta and assisting their illegal attempts to appear as a government;
  • assisting the military junta to build relationships and gain access to funds and resources; and
  • ultimately, assisting the military junta in its illegal (and to date unsuccessful) quest to take full control of the country.

Engagement with the Myanmar military junta also brings risks for foreign governments themselves, such as damaging your government’s credibility in the eyes of existing and future democratic leaders of Myanmar. When engagement with the junta is facilitated by ASEAN entities, it also inflames existing tensions within Myanmar and dramatically undermines any remaining credibility of ASEAN for diplomacy and mediation. Further, anyone providing or facilitating the flow of funds and resources to the military junta risks being complicit in the junta’s ongoing crimes. Thus, it is also extremely important that you avoid facilitating any financial, business or trade relationships with the Myanmar military junta.

The previous government of New Zealand took significant measures to avoid legitimising or supporting the military junta. These included suspending high-level bilateral engagement, imposing travel bans against senior junta members, ensuring that aid programmes do not include projects that benefit the junta, and refusing to recognise the military junta as a government.* These actions have been welcomed by the people of Myanmar. We are now calling on the new government to continue this approach to supporting democracy in Myanmar and to take further steps in the same direction.

ASEAN and its member states and dialogue partners have already taken some actions against the Myanmar military junta. ASEAN has decided not to allow Myanmar to assume the rotating leadership in 2026 and has excluded the junta from meetings of heads of state, foreign ministers and defence ministers. In recent weeks, the Australian government excluded junta leaders from the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne. In November 2022, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) excluded junta representative, Mya Tun Oo, from participation in ministerial meetings. Considering the participation of the junta in military cooperation particularly egregious, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia boycotted the recent ADMM air force chiefs meeting hosted by the military junta. Similarly, ADMM-Plus members Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States, as well as ASEAN member Singapore boycotted ADMM-Plus counter-terrorism training sessions hosted by the Myanmar military junta and RussiaTM. Further, since the junta began its attempted coup, ADMM-Plus members Australia and the United States have imposed sanctions on members of the Myanmar military junta and entities that they control.

Yet, the people of Myanmar urgently need further serious action from ASEAN and its dialogue partners in support of their fundamental safety, human rights and will for democracy. Your decision to exclude the illegal military junta from the upcoming meetings and ensure that the people of Myanmar are represented by their democratically elected government, would be in line with the United Nations’ decision to avoid allowing military junta members to represent Myanmar in the General Assembly. This request also echoes the concerns raised by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Myanmar who recommends that ASEAN must not allow Myanmar military junta personnel to participate in any ASEAN meetings.X He also calls on ASEAN Member States to: “not attend if the invitations to the junta military personnel are not rescinded.” Further, the Special Rapporteur urges that “Member States who support human rights, democracy, and the aspirations of the people of Myanmar publicly reject the SAC’s false claim as a legitimate government and instead recognise the NUG as the legitimate representative of the people of Myanmar.”

The appropriate democratically elected representatives of Myanmar people in all international fora, including all ASEAN meetings, are the National Unity Government (NUG). The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence can be contacted via the details provided on the NUG’s official website. We encourage you to formulate a relationship with them, if you have not done so already.

If you require further information about the current situation in Myanmar, and/or assistance in distinguishing legitimate government representatives of Myanmar from illegal military junta members, we remain at your disposal to assist in this process.

We await your response with much anticipation. Meanwhile, we will continue to monitor whether your actions support the people of Myanmar or the brutal and illegitimate military junta.

Sincerely,

This letter is endorsed by 438 organisations representing Myanmar regional and international civil society, including the 340 organisations listed below and 98 organisations which have chosen not to disclose their names.

Spokespeople:

Mon Zin
Global Myanmar Spring Revolution (GMSR)
+61 402 244 000 (via Signal app) (Languages: MM &EN)

Khet Sit
General Strike Coordination Body (GSCB)
+66 93 78 70 579 (via Signal app) (Languages: MM &EN)

Naw Aung
Defend Myanmar Democracy
+ 66 81 64 90 228 (via Signal app) (Languages: MM & EN)


Download an open letter in pdf