Regional bloc has the power to help end military atrocities that have killed thousands
This past Monday, the European Union extended its ban on selling arms to Myanmar while also prolonging sanctions against high-ranking officials suspected of perpetrating atrocities against the country’s Rohingya Muslims.
The sanctions are aimed at preventing the export of arms and equipment “that might be used for internal repression”, the EU announced.
The EU’s prohibition on military cooperation will stay, as will its assets freeze and travel bans on 14 individuals thought responsible for serious human rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine and fellow ethnic groups in Kachin and Shan states.
The sanctions will remain in place until Myanmar takes “meaningful action” to end the persecution against the Muslim minority and other ethnic groups.
In August 2017, about 750,000 Rohingya were uprooted from their homes in Rakhine state by the country’s military. They fled over the border to Bangladesh where some 300,000 Rohingya were already residing in camps.
According to some estimates, more than 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar security forces and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down.
Many in the international community said the attacks were crimes against humanity and should be investigated to see whether a genocidal intent lay behind them.
Efforts by Reuters journalists to investigate one such crime, a massacre of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine, ended in their arrest. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were found guilty of violating the official secrets Act by illegally possessing government documents and each sentenced to seven years in jail last September.
Their appeal was rejected by the Yangon high court last week.
Initially hopes were high that Aung San Suu Kyi would use her powers as head of government to intervene. But the Nobel Peace laureate refused to get involved, tarnishing further the international reputation of a woman who had once been a beacon of hope for justice and democracy in Myanmar.
Meanwhile, the sanctions applied by Western countries appear to have had limited effect.
In a rare admission, a senior Myanmar Army spokesman Brig-General Zaw Min Tun officer told media that the EU’s arms embargo had caused no serious impact since the majority of its military hardware is from Russian and China.
These two superpowers stuck with Myanmar throughout its decades of oppressive junta rule, when the country was shunned by much of the world community.
Thailand had also grown weary with its neighbour over trouble along their common border, though bilateral ties improved dramatically after the 2014 coup brought the junta to power.
But improved relations with Thailand failed to curb Myanmar’s genocidal tendencies, since the Thai government and its Asean partners adhered rigidly to the bloc’s longstanding tradition of non-interference.
How long Asean countries will continue to offer Myanmar’s military a free rein remains to be seen. In the meantime, the atrocities being committed by Burmese troops are a deep stain on the regional bloc’s reputation.
Sanctions like those just
re-imposed by the EU would be a greater deterrent if supported by other members of the international community.
Sadly, it seems the deaths and suffering of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya and other ethnic residents weigh little against the sanctity of Asean’s non-interference principle.