Monday, 22 February 2021
Private Members' Business
I thank the member for Bendigo for raising this important motion before the House. Clearly, the recent developments in Myanmar are a concern for all of us. The military coup has seen the armed services effectively seize control of the country and detain many of the political and social leaders of Myanmar. The military coup represents an assault on Myanmar's transition to democracy, and certainly an assault on the rule of law, with the military overthrowing a legitimate government, ousting the state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, and placing her under house arrest and detention.
The military coup ends a decade-old, fragile democracy. The people of Myanmar are certainly experiencing mass disruption and protests across the nation, which are now being met by the armed forces with violence and aggression. Only recently—as a matter of fact, only yesterday—I learnt of two people being killed and 20-odd being hospitalised as a result of military action taken against protesters. Australia has always been a good friend to Myanmar. We've wished it well in terms of developing its own democracy, and therefore the welfare of the people of Myanmar has always been central to our country as well.
For many, the military coup has revived memories of the bloody outbreaks of the opposition almost 30 years ago, where the armed forces, again, led a fearful campaign in Myanmar. As one local resident put it to the BBC:
Waking up to learn your world has been completely turned upside down overnight was not a new feeling, but a feeling that I thought that we had moved on from, and one that I never thought we'd be forced to feel again.
These are the feelings of apprehension, anger and disappointment engulfing the people of Myanmar as they come to terms with the military's betrayal and their loss of a hard-fought battle to establish a democracy.
Furthermore, the military coup in Myanmar raises significant concerns not only for the remaining Rohingya population but also for the many ethnic groups that live in the country, as Dan Sullivan from Refugees International highlights, noting that another mass expulsion remains a real possibility. This puts further strains on an already overburdened humanitarian response resulting from the displacement of over 700,000 Rohingya seeking refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh. We must remember that this is the same military that committed the genocide and mass atrocities against the Rohingya that has perpetrated this coup in Myanmar.
Evidence from a number of investigations by Human Rights Watch has documented extrajudicial killings, torture, destruction, takeover of villages, endemic rape and sexual violence, and these have all been laid at the feet of the Myanmar military. Given Aung San Suu Kyi, who I and many supported in marches years back, turned what can only be considered an apparent blind eye to the genocides occurring under her watch and given her failure to acknowledge any of these atrocities, even seeking the assistance of the international community at the time, she must bear some responsibility for the current state of affairs.
The situation in Myanmar is a collective international failure, with the Myanmar military clearly being emboldened by the distinct lack of action taken by the global community when it came to its campaign of ethnic cleansing. In light of the escalating crisis in Myanmar, I join with many of the humanitarian organisations, including Amnesty International, and call on the Australian government to review its defence cooperation with Myanmar and to suspend its military aid to that country. Clearly this is a case that warrants targeted sanctions against the senior members of the military responsible for the coup and also those responsible for the atrocities against the Rohingya and other minorities. It's also clear to me this is an example of why Australia should effectively legislate Magnitsky-style legislation. We should never be timid when it comes to calling out human rights violations.