A parliamentarian introduces a legislative motion urging Australia to ‘isolate’ Myanmar’s coup regime from access to funding and resources used to terrorise the population.
In the aftermath of one of the Myanmar junta’s most deadly airstrikes yet, an Australian parliamentarian introduced a motion to the legislature on Tuesday calling on the country to impose sanctions on the coup regime, a move which it has thus far resisted.
Zoe Daniel, an independent MP representing the constituency of Goldstein in Victoria, asked that the government “immediately introduce targeted sanctions against the Myanmar Junta to isolate it and its supporters from access to international funds and resources enabling it to maintain its military campaign of repression against its citizens.”
The motion cited the Myanmar army’s aerial bombing of a music festival in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township on Sunday night which killed at least 60 people left some 200 more injured.
Australian foreign minister Penny Wong said in July that “sanctions against members of Myanmar’s military regime [were] under active consideration” by the country’s Labour government, headed by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and elected earlier this year.
The previous Liberal administration under Scott Morrison was criticised by rights advocates for failing to levy such measures against the Myanmar military council following the February 2021 coup.
Daniel noted that other nations, including the US, UK and those in the EU, had already sanctioned nearly 200 individuals and more than 170 businesses with ties to the junta.
Ambassadors to Myanmar from these countries, as well as Australia, released a joint statement on Monday in response to the military’s assault on civilians in Hpakant.
“This attack underscores the military regime’s responsibility for crisis and instability in Myanmar and the region and its disregard for its obligation to protect civilians and respect the principles and rules of international humanitarian law,” the statement said.
In an interview with Myanmar Now following the junta’s sentencing of imprisoned Australian national and economic advisor Sean Turnell in September, former ambassador to the country Nicholas Coppel explained why Australia had not adopted what he referred to as the “Western approach” to Myanmar when it came to sanctions.
“Australia has always seen itself as being a country in Asia, and its approach to Asia and its relationships reflect that—that we are part of the region,” he said. “I think those comparisons, [where] people say, ‘all the Western countries are doing something, Australia should also.’ We don’t behave like that, so I don’t expect to start seeing it now.”
In her parliamentary motion, MP Daniel made note of the military’s ongoing access to an international supply of aviation fuel, which has facilitated the continued perpetration of airstrikes responsible for displacing hundreds of thousands of people nationwide.
Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Elaine Pearson also said in a Monday statement that the military’s “horrific attack” in Hpakant “should trigger renewed efforts by concerned states to enforce tougher sanctions on the junta, including cutting off its access to foreign currency revenues as well as arms and aviation fuel.”
The country’s main supplier of jet fuel, Singapore-based Puma Energy, announced in early October it would be exiting Myanmar, after a lengthy campaign by rights groups advocating that such fuel should be prohibited from reaching the junta. Amnesty International urged Puma Energy to ensure that, following the company’s withdrawal, its aviation fuel infrastructure and assets would not “fall into the hands of the military or its crony businesses.”
On Monday, the organisation condemned the Myanmar military’s “ruthless disregard for civilian lives” in Hpakant and noted that the junta’s crimes had been committed “in the face of an ineffective international response to a human rights crisis that is only worsening.”
Criticism of ASEAN
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and a coalition of more than 450 civil society organisations were among the groups also calling on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—which is convening next month at a summit—to take tangible action to end the Myanmar junta’s impunity.
In a joint letter to ASEAN on Tuesday, the civil society coalition dismissed the bloc’s existing Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar as “ineffectual” and recommended it be replaced with a “concrete plan of action to address the multiple catastrophes” in the country.
Khin Ohmar, chair of Progressive Voice—one of the letter’s signatories—said in the statement that ASEAN’s current approach had caused “extensive harm” to “the struggle of Myanmar people.”
She urged the bloc to engage in meaningful consultations with civil society, the publicly mandated National Unity Government and ethnic armed organisations in order to develop new and “clear benchmarks.”
‘Intention’ to kill
Col Naw Bu, a spokesperson for the Kachin Independence Organisation/Army (KIO/A), described the Myanmar army’s attack on the Hpakant music festival, which was held ahead to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the KIO’s founding, as “inhumane and a war crime.”
“They bombed the event on purpose knowing that there were many civilians there,” he told Myanmar Now the day after the aerial assault.
Among the casualties were dozens of civilians, as well as several KIA officers and well-known Kachin performing artists. Those who were wounded have also reportedly been trapped in a nearby village and denied access to medical attention by the Myanmar military, which has set up checkpoints in the area.
Military-controlled media described the location—A Nang Pa, some 10 miles north of Hpakant town—as a KIA base and said the casualties were not civilians but members of the KIA and the “terrorist” anti-junta People’s Defence Force.
According to the KIO, the site is a rest stop frequently visited by travellers passing through the area, not an outpost of their armed wing.
“Even though the regime was aware of that, it launched the attack with the intention of committing a mass killing,” the organisation said in a statement on Tuesday.