Escalating violence in Myanmar sparks fresh calls for a coordinated international response

The pressure for further sanctions comes as Australia has suspended its military cooperation program with Myanmar in the wake of escalating violence against protesters.

Protesters in Myanmar rally against takeover by military junta.

Protesters in Myanmar rally against takeover by military junta. Source: LightRocket

The escalation of violence in Myanmar as authorities crack down on protests is raising further pressure for coordinated international action against the military junta.

The United Nations says Myanmar’s military has killed at least 50 peaceful protesters as it attempts to stamp out daily demonstrations against their military coup.

Myanmar security forces have used increasingly heavy-handed tactics against pro-democracy demonstrators - as well as rounding up to 1,700 people and placing them into detention.

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Australia has now suspended its defence cooperation with Myanmar amid the intensifying crackdown.

But calls persist for stronger co-ordinated international action after the military junta seized power after detaining democratically elected Aung San Suu Kyi on 1 February.

Human Rights Watch Myanmar researcher Manny Maung said Australia’s cutting of military ties was a welcome move but did not go far enough.

She said the Australian government should immediately impose targeted sanctions in a coordinated response with like-minded countries.

“Really, these targeted sanctions will only be effective if governments take a coordinated unified approach,” she told SBS News.

“Failing to do that will really risk legitimising and entrenching a military junta that basically refuses to respect in any way the human rights of the Myanmar people.”

Myanmar's military has declared control of the country for one year under a state of emergency after claiming last November’s poll – won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy – had been fraudulent.

International action against takeover by military junta

The United States, United Kingdom and Canada have all tightened sanctions on Myanmar’s military leaders.

The Australian government has repeatedly raised concerns - but it has so far resisted adopting similar direct sanctions against the leaders of the military coup

Protesters react after riot police fire tear gas in Myanmar.
Source: LightRocket

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne on Monday said the Australian government’s “sanctions policy” in response to Myanmar remained “under close review”.

"We seek a return to democracy," Senator Payne told reporters on Monday.

"We seek absolutely the cessation of any armed violence against unarmed peaceful protesting civilians."

Australia has also announced it will redirect aid away from government or government-related entities, instead sending it to non-government organisations.

Senator Payne said Australia has spoken to other countries, particularly regional neighbours such as Japan and India, about their own policies towards Myanmar.

In contrast, the UK intends to impose asset freezes and travel bans on three generals, while Canada said it would take action against nine military officials.

The US Commerce Department is also imposing export controls on Myanmar’s military regime and two corporations associated with the military.

The trade measures follow President Biden pledging to impose targeted sanctions against leading military commanders and their families.

However, the UN special rapporteur on the rights situation in Myanmar - Thomas Andrews - said most economic interests of the military remained “largely unchallenged”.

New Zealand has also suspended all high-level contact with Myanmar and imposed a travel ban on its military leaders following last week's coup.

UN special envoy urging security council to act

The pressure for international action comes after the UN special envoy for Myanmar Christine Burgener recently urged the UN Security Council to act to quell the junta’s violence.

“There is an urgency for collective action,” she said.

“How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?”

But experts say coordinated UN action remains difficult as permanent Security Council members China and Russia are likely to veto it.

“My concern with the UN security council is that they do need to have consensus to make any resolution,” Ms Maung said.

“The longer we wait the violence escalates and people are being killed and people are being detained.” 

Protesters gather behind makeshift shields during a demonstration against the military coup in Myanmar.
Source: LightRocket

The activist group Justice for Myanmar has called on the international community to act urgently and decisively through targeted sanctions on military leaders.

Amnesty International Australia director Sam Klintworth also said more targeted sanctions against senior Myanmar military officials were needed.

"Without justice and accountability, Myanmar's emboldened military will continue to trample human rights across the country," she said.

Published 9 March 2021 at 10:26am
By Tom Stayner