EU SANCTION ON MYANMAR: HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

EU sanctions in Myanmar, 22/03/2021

Writer: Hendra Manurung is currently a doctoral candidate in international relations at Padjadjaran University, Bandung

On March 22, 2021, the European Union has imposed sanctions on 11 top Myanmar military officials, including General Min Aung Hlaing who led the coup on February 1, 2021. The sanctions for Min Aung Hlaing are in the form of asset freezing, visa blacklisting and travel ban.  Additionally, EU citizens and companies are forbidden from making funds available to the listed individuals and entities. Further, ten of the eleven persons targeted belong to the highest ranks of the Myanmar Armed Forces, known as Tatmadaw, including the Tatmadaw’s Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing, and Deputy-Commander-in-Chief, Soe Win. The other is the new Chairperson of the Union Election Commission for his role in cancelling the results of the 2020 elections in Myanmar. The EU-27 makes it clear that nine other top military officers, as well as the head of Myanmar’s electoral commission, are on the sanctions list as well.

The leader of the military junta is directly involved and responsible for decision making regarding the function of the state, and therefore responsible for the destruction of democracy and the supremacy of the rule of law in Myanmar. Decisions made General Hlaing participate directly responsible for the brutal actions of the security forces that killed more than 700 demonstrators, including children and women.

The EU Council adopted a decision and a regulation establishing a global human rights sanctions regime on December 7, 2020. For the first time, the EU is equipping itself with a framework that will allow it to target individuals, entities and bodies including state and non-state actors, which responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide, no matter where they occurred. Such restrictive measures will provide for a travel ban applying to individuals, and the freezing of funds applying to both individuals and entities. In addition, persons and entities in the EU will be forbidden from making funds available to those listed, either directly or indirectly.

News Europe on ‘Free Myanmar‘, 23/02/2021

The framework for targeted restrictive measures applies to acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations or abuses, e.g. torture, slavery, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests or detentions. Other human rights violations or abuses can also fall under the scope of the sanctions regime where those violations or abuses are widespread, systematic or are otherwise of serious concern as regards the objectives of the common foreign and security policy set out in the Treaty of the European Union Article 21.

The EU previous made-decision has prioritized that the promotion and protection of human rights remain a cornerstone and priority of EU external action. It reflects on how the EU’s determination to address serious human rights violations and abuses. While, On 17 November 2020, the Council approved conclusions on the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024 which set out the EU’s level of ambition and priorities in this field in its relations with all third countries. In the EU Action Plan, the EU committed to developing a new horizontal EU global human rights sanctions regime to tackle serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide. By adopting Adoption Plan, the Council reaffirms the EU’s strong commitment to further advancing universal values for all.

One of the EU policy instruments is to promote the objectives of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), by implementing restrictive measures or giving sanctions. This includes safeguarding EU values, its fundamental interests and security; strengthening and supporting democracy, rule of law, human rights and principles of international law; keeping the peace; preventing conflict and strengthening international security.

A country or population is not a specific EU-27 target but is much more focused on a specific policy-taken or activity, ways to do it, and those who are responsible for the policies that have been implemented by the country’s leaders. Hence, the EU makes every effort to minimize the consequences of its policies which have been detrimental to the civilian population and to activities or persons not sanctioned. Those have always been part of a broader and comprehensive policy approach that includes political dialogue, complementary measures, and are not non-punitive measures.

The EU-27 countries periodically conduct a review of the sanctions that have been imposed. The renewal, amendment and lifting of sanctions made by the EU are finally decided in the European Union Council Session. Restrictive measures imposed by the EU may target governments of third countries, or non-state entities, e.g. companies, and individuals (such as terrorist groups and terrorists). For a majority of sanctions regimes, measures are targeted at individuals and entities and consist of asset freezes and travel bans. The EU can also adopt sectoral measures, such as economic and financial measures, e.g. import and export restrictions, restrictions on banking services) or arms embargoes (prohibition on exporting goods set out in the EU`s common military list. At least, there are 3 given sanctions by the EU, including 1) Sanctions imposed by the UN which the EU transposes into EU law; 2) the EU may reinforce UN sanctions by applying stricter and additional measures e.g. vis-à-vis DPRK (related to the non-proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction on July 30, 2020); 3)  the EU may also decide to impose fully autonomous sanctions regimes e.g. vis-à-vis Syria (related to restrictive measures against Syria human rights violations on April 3, 2017), Venezuela (related to the continuing deterioration of democracy, the rule of law and human rights on November 13, 2017), and Ukraine (related to misappropriation of state funds of Ukraine on March 3, 2014)/Russia (sectoral restrictive measures related to Russia’s actions destabilizing the situation in Ukraine on 1 July and 19 December 2016; 28 June and 21 December 2017; 5 July and 21 December 2018; 27 June and 19 December 2019; 29 June and 17 December 2020).

So far, according to Brussels, the European Union has implemented all sanctions that are fully compatible with its obligations under international law, including those concerning respect for universal human rights and guarantees of fundamental freedoms.

The violence and human rights violations in Myanmar since the military coup on 1 February 2021 have disregarded international legal norms and universal human rights values. ASEAN as the only regional organization in Southeast Asia so far had not been able to do anything in order to ensure political stability and security in Myanmar. Hereinafter, ahead of the ASEAN leaders’ meeting in Jakarta on April 24, 2021, to discuss the current hot topical issue of political stability and the democratization process of Myanmar which is likely to determine the future of democracy in the Southeast Asian country which borders China. There are more than 700 civilians, including children, who have died as a result of military violence. The junta responded to peaceful demonstrations against the military coup on February 2021 with rifle shells. Military forces violence has not discouraged pro-democracy activists. The threat of bullets shooting did not scare them. Protesters, mostly young people, continue to organize demonstrations. Strikes as resistance to the coup continued.

On 28 February 2021, Indonesia has expressed a stance regarding the development of the situation in Myanmar, by issuing a statement: 1) Indonesia is very concerned about the increasing violence in Myanmar which has caused casualties and injuries; 2) Deep condolences to the victim and his family; 3) Indonesia calls on the Myanmar security forces not to resort to violence and to exercise restraint in order to avoid more casualties and prevent the situation from worsening. The anti-coup movement is also supported by a number of armed ethnic militias in the border area, which is a form of sympathy for the loss of civilian casualties in mass demonstrations in various Myanmar cities. Previously, in November 2020, at the ASEAN Summit, ASEAN foreign ministers invited the US President from the 2020 general election to maintain peace in Southeast Asia. The ASEAN Ministerial Meeting is held virtually ahead of the 37th ASEAN Summit from 12 to 15 November 2020, hosted by Vietnam.

Various countries and non-state actors are worried that Myanmar’s internal problems will likely become like Syria. The civil war was protracted, with the civilian death toll increasing, followed by an increase in the number of refugees to neighbouring countries. Myanmar is currently one of the top five sources of refugees in the world. According to the UN high commission for refugees, there are around 1.9 million refugees from Myanmar. As for Syria, it occupies the top position with 6.6 million refugees in 2019.

Henceforth, in responding to the worsening political conditions in Myanmar, there is no other choice for the international community, including ASEAN regional organizations to act proactively as quickly as possible, especially in making decisions and commitments that are planned, measured, directed, decisive, and have an impact on political stability and Myanmar national security. The European Union and the United States have indeed imposed economic sanctions on figures and state companies involved in the recent military coup.

ASEAN together with Indonesia must take a central role in optimizing efforts to resolve the Myanmar problem, given the endless violence, a military junta that is completely reluctant to reduce repression on civilians, and the need for the international community to develop a more assertive and sustainable strategic plan. The communication activities with military junta leaders are only a means of reaching a solution to the crisis. The main thing is how to seek the willingness of ASEAN as a solid regional organization together with the EU, China and the US, to immediately formulate coordinated and targeted policies, so that the military junta will stop killing Myanmar people.

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