Australian government faces renewed calls to sanction Myanmar’s military on coup anniversary

A former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights has urged the international community, including Australia, to step up its response to Myanmar's military junta.

Protesters protest against the military coup in Downtown Yangon Myanmar on February 7, 2021.

Protesters protest against the military coup in Downtown Yangon Myanmar on February 7, 2021. Source: Getty Images AsiaPac

The federal government is facing renewed pressure to impose targeted sanctions against Myanmar's ruling junta on the one-year anniversary of the bloody military coup in the country.

Exactly one year since the coup on 1 February 2021, former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee has warned the nation continues to descend into chaos and instability. 

She has described the next 12 months as a “make or break” timeframe for the international community, including Australia, to ratchet up its response to the crisis.

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“Countries like Australia if they adopted sanctions it would really go a long way,” she told SBS News.

“If Myanmar turns into a so-called failed state then we have that on our conscience and it would be under our watch the international community chose not to do anything.” 

United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee.
United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee. Source: AFP


Myanmar's military seizing of power last year ended 10 years of tentative democracy, following an election three months earlier won in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Following the coup, mass demonstrations were held in the streets against the military’s takeover.

Since then, Myanmar has seen its economy ravaged and the massive displacement of people from fighting between armed ethnic groups and the military.

According to the United Nations, around 1,500 civilians have been killed so far, and the number of internally displaced continues to increase.  



By the end of 2021, more than 320,000 people had been internally displaced. In just the past month, the number has increased to over 400,000.

Rights groups have also estimated that 11,000 people have been arbitrarily imprisoned since the coup began.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Tuesday repeated Australia's condemnation of the Myanmar military's use of violence and serious human rights against civilians.

“The military has inflicted horrific violence, trampled basic freedoms and triggered humanitarian, security, health and economic crises across the country,” she said in a statement.

"We urge the military to exercise restraint and to release all those arbitrarily detained, including Australian Professor Sean Turnell."

But Senator Payne has stopped short of announcing additional measures against the military junta.

Labor’s acting foreign affairs spokesperson Kristina Keneally has intensified pressure on the federal government to respond further, demanding it steps up to target key figures in Myanmar’s military.

“It is beyond time for the Morrison-Joyce Government to implement targeted sanctions against those responsible for the coup and the subsequent violent crackdown,” she said.

“This was a direct attack on Myanmar’s democratic transition.” 



Australia last December passed new laws allowing it to ban human rights abusers, corrupt officials and malicious cyber hackers from the country and seize their assets known as “Magnitsky” sanctions.

Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson has also called on the government to harness the powers to impose sanctions on Myanmar military leaders and connected entities.

“The Australian government should unequivocally stand by them and heed their calls to help deprive the military of its revenue sources, joining other governments to maximise pressure on Myanmar’s junta,” she said in a statement ahead of the anniversary. 

The United States, Britain and Canada on Monday imposed sanctions against additional officials in Myanmar, in measures timed to mark one year since the military seized power and plunged the country into chaos.

Joint action by the three nations, who have already imposed sanctions on commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing and other members of the junta, targeted judicial officials involved in prosecutions against deposed Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Australian government has suspended military cooperation with Myanmar and redirected aid to non-government organisations in response to the coup. 



Senator Payne has also called for immediate and unimpeded access to humanitarian aid for citizens.

"Australia will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those most in need and remains committed to working with regional and international partners in response to these crises," she said.

"We also call on the military to engage meaningfully in inclusive dialogue for a peaceful return of Myanmar to the path of democracy."

The federal government has stressed it supports efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to work towards a peaceful resolution to the crisis.


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4 min read
Published 1 February 2022 at 1:33pm
By Abbie O'Brien, Tom Stayner
Source: SBS News