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Joint Open Letter urging ASEAN and Dialogue Partner defence ministers to cancel ‘counter-terrorism’ training to be hosted by Myanmar military junta and Russia

29/08/2023

Joint Open Letter urging ASEAN and Dialogue Partner defence ministers to cancel ‘counter-terrorism’ training to be hosted by Myanmar military junta and Russia

TO:

The Defence Ministers of

Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China,

India, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines,

Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam,

CC:

The Defence Ministers of

Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand,

United States

15 August 2023

Subject:  Request to cancel or refuse to attend ADMM-Plus military training exercises involving the Myanmar military junta

Dear Defence Ministers,

We, the undersigned 551 Myanmar regional and international organisations and allies are writing this open letter to urge ASEAN Member State governments to: 

1. cancel the upcoming ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus Experts’ Working Group on Counter Terrorism (ADMM-Plus EWG) training exercises under the co-chairmanship of the Myanmar military junta and Russia; 

2. exclude Myanmar military junta members from all ADMM-Plus meetings and activities. 

If the Myanmar military is not excluded from ADMM-Plus activities, we appeal to ASEAN Member State governments and Dialogue Partners to:  

3. publicly refuse to attend all ADMM-Plus activities with the Myanmar military.

As you know, the ADMM-Plus EWG is currently being co-chaired by the Myanmar military junta and Russia, who are organising a field training exercise in Russia in September and have already held a tabletop exercise in Myanmar in August. The planned training exercise in Russia appears to include a simulation that involves trying to defeat ‘terrorists’ from a border area. This would provide direct support to the Myanmar military junta to improve its capacity to wage war against the people of Myanmar and its attempts to control them by force, while simultaneously also providing support to the Russian military to continue its atrocities against the people of Ukraine. This contradicts the ASEAN Charter, which states adherence to the principles of peaceful settlement of disputes, democracy, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.[i] The fact that ASEAN is providing military support to the Myanmar military junta while the junta is waging a campaign of terror against the people of Myanmar further damages the bloc’s credibility.

We underline the fact that the Myanmar military junta is not, by any definition, a government and therefore has no legitimacy to represent the people of Myanmar in ASEAN or ADMM-Plus meetings and activities. For decades, the Myanmar military has committed international crimes against democratic forces and civilians under the pretext of ‘counter terrorism’. Since the failed coup attempt, the junta has deceitfully and arbitrarily designated the democratically elected National Unity Government (NUG), Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), and the People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) as “terrorists”.[ii] The junta itself, however, meets the criteria for a terrorist organization under both domestic and international law,[iii] and does not have any legitimacy to chair a counter terrorism platform or host counter terrorism exercises.

Over the past 30 months, the military junta has engaged in a campaign of extreme violence against the people of Myanmar. To date, the military has killed 3,897 people and imprisoned 19,740 more.[iv] The military has committed indiscriminate airstrikes, shelling, mass torture, sexual violence and other horrific acts of violence. Their war crimes and crimes against humanity have forced 1.6 million people to flee their homes[v] since the attempted coup began. Thus, it must also be understood that the military junta is not a professional armed force under civilian control that defends the people of Myanmar from external threats.

The junta’s ability to gain and retain power depends on violence, coercion, access to funds, arms and other resources, and importantly, the complicity of international governments. Through ADMM and ADMM-Plus, ASEAN Member States and Dialogue Partners are falsely lending legitimacy to the junta’s ‘defence ministry’ and emboldening both the Myanmar junta and Russia to commit further international crimes with blanket impunity.

We welcome thedecisions of Australia, New Zealand and the United States to not participate in the recent tabletop training in Myanmar or the upcoming training in Russia.[vi] We also note that Japan, Singapore and South Korea are not present in photographs of the training in Myanmar published by those involved.[vii] [viii] ADMM has also previously excluded the junta’s defence minister,Mya Tun Oo, from participation in ministerial meetingsin November 2022.[ix] We call on all ASEAN Member States and Dialogue Partners to take responsibility in responding to the crisis in Myanmar by taking the actions described at the beginning of this letter.

On July 28, Defend Myanmar Democracy – a civil society campaign to defend Myanmar people’s right to democratic representation internationally – wrote to ASEAN and ADMM leaders urging them to cancel the counter-terrorism training sessions hosted by the military junta and Russia this year. To date, no response has been received and preparation for the training appears to be continuing. Consequently, we urge you, as the defence ministers of ASEAN Member States and Dialogue Partners, to exert your strong influence in support of Myanmar people’s human rights and fundamental safety.

This letter reiterates similar appeals from Myanmar civil society organisations[x] [xi] [xii] and regional parliamentarians[xiii] calling on ASEAN leaders to exclude Myanmar military junta representatives from ASEAN’s meetings at all levels and to take other actions to effectively address the Myanmar crisis, as well as calling on ASEAN Dialogue Partners to boycott ADMM-Plus defence meetings. This request also echoes the concerns raised recently by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Mr Thomas Andrews, in his oral update to the UN Human Rights Council[xiv] and in his statement on his mission to Indonesia[xv]. The Special Rapporteur recommends that ASEAN must not allow Myanmar military junta personnel to participate in any ASEAN meetings, especially defence-related ones. He also calls on ASEAN Member States to: “not attend if the invitations to the junta military personnel are not rescinded.”[xvi]

We look forward to your positive response and hope to see ASEAN Member States and Dialogue Partners take immediate action.

Sincerely,

This letter is endorsed by 551 organisations representing Myanmar regional and international civil society, including the 298 organisations listed below and 253 organisations which have chosen not to disclose their names below.

See the full list of signatories here.


[i] Association of South East Asian Nations, The ASEAN Charter, 2008, https://asean.org/wp-content/uploads/images/archive/publications/ASEAN-Charter.pdf

[ii] Sebastian Strango, ‘Myanmar Junta Labels Shadow Government ‘Terrorists’’, The Diplomat, 10 May 2021, https://thediplomat.com/2021/05/myanmar-junta-labels-shadow-government-terrorists/

[iii] Special Advisory Council Myanmar, Briefing Paper: The Myanmar Military is a Terrorist Organization Under Law, 14 December 2021, https://specialadvisorycouncil.org/2021/12/briefing-paper-the-myanmar-military-is-a-terrorist-organisation-under-law/ 

[iv] Assistance Association For Political Prisoners (Burma), Daily briefing, 7 August 2023, https://aappb.org/?p=25868

[v] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Myanmar Humanitarian Update No. 31, 15 July 2023, https://reliefweb.int/report/myanmar/myanmar-humanitarian-update-no-31-15-july-2023?_gl=1*m6gzo1*_ga*NzAzODY5MTY2LjE2NzcxMzUxMzA.*_ga_E60ZNX2F68*MTY4OTgxNzE3OS4xMi4wLjE2ODk4MTcxNzkuNjAuMC4w

[vi] Myanmar Now, ‘Russia and Myanmar junta to host ASEAN counter-terrorism exercises despite boycott by dialogue partners’, Myanmar Now, 22 June 2023, https://myanmar-now.org/en/news/russia-and-myanmar-junta-to-host-asean-counter-terrorism-exercises-despite-boycott-by-dialogue-partners/

[vii] Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, ‘Counter-terrorism drills with the participation of ASEAN member countries and Dialogue Partners (ADMM plus) began in Myanmar’, 3 August 2023, https://eng.mil.ru/en/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12474571@egNews

[viii] Global New Light of Myanmar, ‘Successful conclusion of ADMM-Plus Counter-Terrorism tabletop exercise bolstering regional security’, 5 August 2023, https://www.gnlm.com.mm/successful-conclusion-of-admm-plus-counter-terrorism-tabletop-exercise-bolstering-regional-security/

[ix] Tan Hui Lee, ‘Myanmar junta snubbed at Asean defence chiefs’ meet’, Straits Times, 23 November 2022, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/myanmar-junta-snubbed-at-asean-defence-chiefs-meet 

[x] Progressive Voice, Forum Asia & ALTSEAN, ‘ASEAN must stop enabling Myanmar junta’s atrocities’ [statement], 16 May 2023, https://progressivevoicemyanmar.org/2023/05/16/asean-must-stop-enabling-myanmar-juntas-atrocities/

[xi] Progressive Voice & Forum Asia, ‘Myanmar: ASEAN leaders must take decisive steps, stop aiding and abetting junta’s atrocity crimes’ [press release], 9 November 2022, https://progressivevoicemyanmar.org/2022/11/09/myanmar-asean-leaders-must-take-decisive-steps-stop-aiding-and-abetting-juntas-atrocity-crimes/ 

[xii] 448 Myanmar regional and international organizations, ‘United States: Open letter to ADMM dialogue partner’ [open letter], 14 July 2022, https://progressivevoicemyanmar.org/2022/07/14/open-letter-to-admm-dialogue-partner/

[xiii] ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, ‘ASEAN must exclude Myanmar junta from all joint military exercises, Southeast Asian MPs say’ [statement], 28 July 2023, https://aseanmp.org/2023/07/28/asean-must-exclude-myanmar-junta-from-all-joint-military-exercises-southeast-asian-mps-say/  

[xiv] Thomas Andrews, Oral update to the United Nations Human Rights Council – 53nd Session, 6 July 2023, https://www.bit.ly/44dIP2Z   

[xv] Thomas Andrews, End of Mission Statement, 21 June 2023, https://bangkok.ohchr.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/ENG-21.06.2023-UNSR-Myanmar-EoM-Statement-FINAL.pdf

[xvi] Thomas Andrews, End of Mission Statement, 21 June 2023, https://bangkok.ohchr.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/ENG-21.06.2023-UNSR-Myanmar-EoM-Statement-FINAL.pdf

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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