A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report Sunday criticized Australia’s inaction since the military junta took over Myanmar in a military coup two years ago. According to the report, Australia has yet to impose sanctions on the junta in response to their human rights violations. HRW accuses the junta of being in violation of international humanitarian law and of committing war crimes as well as crimes against humanity.The delay in response may be attributed to two things: Sean Turnell and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The junta imprisoned Turnell, an Australian economist, after he was sentenced to three years imprisonment for breaking the Official Secrets Act. HRW believes Australia may have refrained from taking a stance against the junta in order to negotiate the Turnell’s release. The report details that while the delay was reasonable during the imprisonment of Turnell, the “excuse no longer carries any weight” as he has been released since November 2022.HRW also pointed out that Australia has sanctions mechanisms to hold the junta accountable. Australia’s Autonomous Sanctions Bill (2010) allows Australia to impose sanctions on any state deemed responsible for human rights violations or anti-democratic practices. However, HRW said Australia may have refrained from using such sanctions since other ASEAN member states have refrained from doing so as well.As a result, the HRW calls on Australia to take a “regional lead in imposing concrete measures” against the junta, and suggests coordinating this with ASEAN member states rather than continuing with their current neutral stance.
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