A bipartisan parliamentary committee recommended that the Australian government consider imposing sanctions on senior members of the Myanmar military following a devastating coup earlier this year.
Almost 1,000 people have been killed by security forces in the country since the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s army, took power in February. So far, Australia has resisted calls to follow other Western nations like the United States in imposing sanctions, drawing harsh criticism from human rights defenders and opposition politicians.
But this week’s report, from a subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade, which is chaired by liberal MP Dave Sharma, and includes members and senators from across the political divide, could exert further pressure. on the Morrison government to act.
The report’s eight recommendations include calls on the government to explore granting paths for permanent residence to Myanmar citizens and contribute to international discussions on an arms embargo.
Australia’s slow response to the coup
In February, the Tatmadaw seized power in a military coup, brought the nation into a state of emergency, and charged Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader, with a series of fabricated crimes.
With waves of violence spreading across the country and a brutal crackdown on anti-coup protesters, Australia’s own ties to the Myanmar military were quickly under scrutiny. In March, a month after the coup, Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced that Australia finally suspend military cooperation with the country, which had continued for years despite the Tatmadaw’s attempted ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims. Documents obtained by the ABC Under the freedom of information program, Australia’s ties were not loosened when evidence of serious human rights abuses by the military became apparent.
While the US, UK and Canada have imposed series of targeted sanctions On the regime, Australia has resisted calls to do the same.
Earlier this month, Payne said Australia’s consideration was not to impose them at this time.
“It is not our opinion that they would advance our interests and our interests in supporting the ASEAN-led solution and the ASEAN efforts that are being made,” he told Senate estimates.
Human Rights Watch Australia Director Elaine Pearson said Crikey The government’s position on Myanmar, which appears to be driven by deference to ASEAN, has been “terribly weak.”
“This is a military regime that took power through a coup, we have had thousands arbitrarily detained and more than 800 murdered. If that is not enough to make us impose specific sanctions, on what will they impose specific sanctions? ” she said.
Greens foreign affairs spokeswoman Janet Rice, a strong critic of Australia’s coup response, will introduce a bill that requires Payne to explain the government’s stance on sanctions.
“The Australian government has been in their hands for nearly five months, while the people of Myanmar have called for urgent action and other countries around the world have heeded their calls,” said Senator Rice.
Yesterday’s report shows that Rice’s concerns are shared by many within the Morrison administration. Chaired by Sharma, a former diplomat, the subcommittee includes liberal advocates Ross Vasta, Phillip Thompson and Vince Connelly, Senator David Fawcett and the Nationals whip Damian Drum.
“Australia has a clear national interest in ending the violence in Myanmar; the restoration of a democratic civil government; and the resumption of the economic and social development of Myanmar, ”said Sharma.
On the issue of sanctions, the committee recognized “different views” on their effectiveness among members, but agreed that they clearly deserved further examination.
Pearson is encouraged by calls from within the government for action on Myanmar, but wants Australia to take a more consistent approach to denouncing human rights abuses in our region.
“I think there is a real difference between the government’s appetite to address human rights issues when it comes to China, which is obviously the most serious threat to human rights in our region, and other countries in our region that are also concerning.” .
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