Friday 20 May 2022

Australia not appointing ambassador to Myanmar amid moves to downgrade diplomatic ties

Source ABC, 16 May

Australia is moving to downgrade diplomatic ties with Myanmar as it tries to avoid legitimising the military junta that has seized power and violently suppressed protests in the South-East Asian country.

Key points:

  • The new Australian representative in Myanmar will operate as the head of mission with the title of Charge d'Affaires
  • The decision has been applauded by human rights groups and the country's political opposition 
  • Australia is still trying to secure the release of detained Australian Sean Turnell

The ABC has been told that a senior Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) official has been selected to replace the former ambassador to Myanmar, Andrea Faulkner, who finished her term in April.

But the new Australian representative – who has not yet been given permission to travel to Myanmar — will not present her credentials to the head of the junta, and will instead operate as the head of mission with the title of chargé d'affaires.

Australian officials are walking a fine line with the strategy.

DFAT hopes it will allow them to deploy an experienced officer capable of championing Australia's interests in Myanmar without formally recognising the legitimacy of the military, which ousted the elected National League for Democracy government.

Several other Western countries are moving to downgrade ties with Myanmar in a similar way, but human rights groups – many of which have fiercely criticised Australia's decision not to hit the military junta with fresh sanctions – have still applauded the move.

Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson told the ABC that Australia's dealings with the junta had largely been ineffective because officials had been too quick to meet with military leaders, and too slow to ramp up economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime.

He said the decision to withhold full recognition was "an indication that Australia may finally be willing to show some teeth" in its diplomatic dealings with the military.

"This is an important step, it's a symbolic step but it's something that [will] generate anger and unhappiness [in] the Myanmar military junta because they want to be internationally recognised," he said.

"So this denial is an important step to say 'your coup is illegal, and the rights abuses you are committing are outrageous and unacceptable'."

Myanmar's exiled civilian-led National Unity Government (NUG) has also praised the decision.

Dr Tun-Aung Shwe – who represents the NUG in Australia – said it would "strengthen the Myanmar people's trust in Australia".

"We all know that the junta has always propagandised and exploited diplomatic occasions for its own cause to claim to be recognised by international governments and communities," he told the ABC.

"It is particularly welcome that the Australian Government understands this situation well and avoids conveying any sense of legitimacy to military rule in Myanmar."

However, the strategy still brings risks.

Australia wants to retain access to senior members of the junta — in part so it can press for the release of jailed Australian academic Sean Turnell – although human rights groups have repeatedly declared that such meetings are useless and risk elevating military leaders who seized power illegally.

A couple smiling for a photo.
Sean Turnell (right) was arrested in Yangon five days after Myanmar's military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.(Supplied)

Australian officials say they need to use every opportunity to press for Mr Turnell's release and urge the most influential members of the junta to implement the five-point consensus devised by ASEAN to tackle Myanmar's political crisis.

The former Australian ambassador, Andrea Faulkner, met with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing just before she departed the country in April.

DFAT deputy secretary Katrina Cooper told Senate Estimates hearings last month that Ms Faulkner "reiterated Australia's concerns about the situation in Myanmar" when meeting Min Aung Hlaing, as well as urging the Myanmar military to "cease violence, release arbitrary detainees, engage in dialogue and ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance".

Ms Cooper said the ambassador also "called on the regime to release those who had been arbitrarily detained in Myanmar, including Professor Sean Turnell".

It's not clear how much access or purchase Australia's new representative will have within the political system in Myanmar, given the decision to effectively downgrade diplomatic ties.

Other countries trying to navigate the process of replacing their top diplomatic representatives have been ensnared in complex disputes over protocol and procedure.

For example, the United Kingdom's new ambassador has been locked out of Myanmar after declining to present their credentials to the regime.

But Mr Robertson said Australia's diplomatic engagement with the junta had so far been "very predictable", prizing access above actual results.

A DFAT spokesperson said it would appoint a "senior career officer with ambassadorial experience in the region" as the chargé d'affaires to Myanmar.

U.N. Security Council: Impose Binding Arms Embargo On Myanmar

Source Scoop, 12 May

President Biden due to meet ASEAN leaders in Washington, D.C.

(BANGKOK, May 12, 2022)—The United Nations Security Council should urgently convene an open session on Myanmar and pass a binding resolution on the situation in the country, Fortify Rights said today. A Security Council resolution on Myanmar should impose a global arms embargo on the military, refer the situation in the country to the International Criminal Court, and impose targeted sanctions.

On May 12 and 13, nine high-level representatives from member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are scheduled to meet U.S. President Joe Biden during a special summit in Washington D.C., where the regional bloc's response to the crisis in Myanmar will be discussed.

"ASEAN and its consensus have failed," said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Fortify Rights. "The Security Council has a responsibility to act. The flow of arms and money to the junta must be stopped, and the Security Council is the key international body with a mandate to make that happen."

In April 2021, ASEAN leaders reached a "Five-Point Consensus" with the Myanmar military, aimed at putting the nation back on a path to peace following the February 2021 military coup d'état led by Myanmar Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The Myanmar junta has flouted the agreement while committing mass atrocity crimes.

The U.K. is the U.N. Security Council's "penholder" on Myanmar and should table a Chapter VII resolution mandating an arms embargo and referral to the ICC, and President Biden should use the occasion of the Special Summit to obtain ASEAN's support for such a move, Fortify Rights said.

Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter enables the Security Council to take coercive action with respect to threats to international peace and security; Chapter VII resolutions are binding on all U.N. member states.
The Myanmar military is responsible for genocidecrimes against humanity, and war crimes and has long posed a threat to international peace and security. Since launching a coup d'état on February 1, 2021, the Myanmar army and police have reportedly killed more than 1,800 people and detained more than 13,640.
In a 193-page report published in March, Fortify Rights and the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School documented acts by the Myanmar junta that amount to crimes against humanity, including murder, imprisonment, torture, enforced disappearance, forced displacement, and persecution of civilians.
Since the coup, the Security Council has issued four press statements and one Presidential Statement expressing various levels of condemnation of violence and atrocities in Myanmar, while also backing an ASEAN-led response to the crisis, with no discernible effect. Continued violations by the junta provide a context for heightened action by the body, said Fortify Rights.
If a permanent member of the Security Council were to veto a resolution on Myanmar, then the U.N. General Assembly would be required to convene on the issue. On April 26, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution to hold the five permanent Security Council members accountable for their use of the veto. The resolution requires the General Assembly to convene within ten working days after a Security Council veto "to hold a debate on the situation as to which the veto was cast."
While there has been no binding action on Myanmar from the Security Council or ASEAN, individual U.N. Member States have imposed arms embargoes and targeted sanctions on the Myanmar junta, including the U.K, U.S., Canada, Australia, as well as the European Union.
In his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in February 2022, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, identified U.N. Member States that continue to supply arms to the Myanmar military, including Security Council permanent members China and Russia. Fortify Rights and the Schell Center identified 61 senior members of the Myanmar junta who should be investigated for international crimes, only 20 of whom have been sanctioned by any government. The Japanese government also continues to provide training to the Myanmar military.
In June 2021, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution calling on "all member states to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar." The resolution passed with the support of 119 countries, with one country–Belarus–opposing and 36—including Russia and China—abstaining.

President Biden should also encourage ASEAN member states to engage the National Unity Government of Myanmar, as recommended by Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah. Thailand should be urged to stop returning refugees to Myanmar and to authorize cross-border humanitarian aid. The U.S. Government and ASEAN should also ensure that humanitarian aid to Myanmar is not directed through the military junta, said Fortify Rights.

"The Myanmar junta is destabilizing the entire region, and ASEAN is at risk of losing all credibility for failing to take decisive action," said Matthew Smith. "All governments have a responsibility to protect the people of Myanmar from mass atrocities and that includes members of the Security Council."