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Open Letter to G7 on the worrying state of human rights and democracy in Myanmar and Cambodia

19/05/2023

Open Letter to G7 on the worrying state of human rights and democracy in Myanmar and Cambodia

To: G7 Leaders

H.E. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

H.E. Emmanuel Macron, President of France

H.E. Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of Germany

H.E. Giorgio Meloni, Prime Minister of Italy

H.E. Fumio Kushida, Prime Minister of Japan

H.E. Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

H.E. Joseph R. Biden, President of the United States of America

19 May 2023

Your Excellencies,

We, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, are writing to express our grave concerns about the state of human rights and democracy in Southeast Asia, particularly with regard to Myanmar and Cambodia. 

We are monitoring the increasing authoritarian tendencies in the region, with continued human rights violations and attacks on political opponents and activists by authoritarian governments in Brunei, Viet Nam, and Lao PDR, as well as a trend of shrinking civic space, even in nominally democratic countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. We are deeply troubled by these developments, and we believe that if the situations in Myanmar and Cambodia are allowed to go on without a serious response from the international community, repressive and undemocratic regimes will be further emboldened, endangering the progress in democracy and human rights that has been achieved in the region in the past few decades.

Since the coup d’etat led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in February 2021, the political and humanitarian situation in the country has continued to deteriorate and has reached alarming levels. In the past two years, the Myanmar military has waged an all-out war on its own people, through he arbitrary arrests of thousands of anti-junta activists and their family members; the routine use of torture of detainees, often with lethal consequences; the shooting of unarmed protesters, air strikes against civilians in Myanmar’s ethnic areas, the burning of whole villagers, and extrajudicial killings. 

Last year, the junta also executed four political prisoners, including former lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw and prominent activist Kyaw Min Yu, widely known as ‘Ko Jimmy’. These death sentences were the first known judicial executions in Myanmar since 1988 and show the increasing brutality of Min Aung Hlaing’s regime.

Most recently, air strikes in the Sagaing Region have killed more than 160 civilians, including children. According to an investigation by Human Rights Watch, the Myanmar military used “thermobaric” munitions during the air strikes, a violation of international human rights law and an apparent war crime.

Throughout all these atrocities, the junta has largely gone unchecked. While ASEAN leaders agreed on a Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar with Min Aung Hlaing in April 2021, the junta leader has since clearly demonstrated that he has no intention to abide by the agreement, and ASEAN leaders have displayed little desire to pressure him to do so. The latest statement from the regional bloc following the 42nd ASEAN Summit earlier this month shows an utter lack of urgency and gives little hope that ASEAN will change its approach to Myanmar. 

The International Parliamentary Inquiry into the global response to the Myanmar coup (IPI), which was organized by APHR, wrote in its final report last year that the international community has largely failed to support the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. It is more crucial than ever to correct this failure and make sure that the junta faces consequences for its actions and put an end to their ability to bring further death and destruction upon the people of Myanmar. 

We therefore urge the G7 to take swift and firm measures against the illegal military junta led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and provide real assistance to the pro-democracy forces in Myanmar. Those measures should include targeted economic sanctions against the military junta, a comprehensive arms embargo including on aviation fuel, and referral of the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal.

Another worrying situation is the one in Cambodia, whose continuing descent into authoritarianism is of great concern and does not bode well for the region. The situation related to human rights and democracy has drastically deteriorated in Cambodia in recent years, notably since Prime Minister Hun Sen used the country’s courts to dissolve the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2017, shortly after it had run his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) close in successive nationwide elections.

This year alone, Hun Sen has openly threatened opposition supporters with legal and physical violence, while his regime has shut down one of the country’s last remaining independent media outlets Voice of Democracy (VOD) and sentenced former CNRP leader Kem Sokha to 27 years of house arrest on trumped-up treason charges.

Earlier this week, the Cambodian National Election Commission (NEC) rejected the registration of the main opposition Candlelight Party for the upcoming July elections on administrative grounds, in what was clearly a manufactured bureaucratic obstacle designed to block the Candlelight Party from competing in the elections by any means possible. 

The government of Hun Sen appears determined to drive the final nail into the coffin of Cambodia’s democracy, which is guaranteed by the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991. Any elections held under the present circumstances cannot possibly be free and fair. 

We therefore urge the G7 to pressure the Cambodian government to unconditionally release all political prisoners, halt the constant harassment and prosecution of political opponents, and allow for the will of the people to prevail through a free and fair electoral process, first by creating an environment that allows for opposition parties to register for and compete in the upcoming elections.

If the Hun Sen regime persists in trying to hamstring the opposition, then the G7 must refuse to accord legitimacy to July elections as it is becoming increasingly clear that Hun Sen is intent on using the elections as just another tool to consolidate his power. 

Unless the international community takes some form of action now, nothing will prevent Hun Sen from further solidifying his decades-long dictatorship by eliminating any semblance of a democratic system.

Your Excellencies, as you yourselves have come to power in democratically-held elections in countries with strong human rights protections, we are sure that you recognize and understand the importance of human rights and democracy to the prosperity and well-being of a nation. We have confidence in your commitment to these principles and hope that you will demonstrate that commitment by coming to the aid of the people of Myanmar and Cambodia. 

Recognizing the powerful role you play as leaders of the largest advanced economies in the world, we urge you to take immediate and decisive action to change the course in both countries. Doing so will have a significant impact on neighboring countries in Southeast Asia and will pave the way for a more politically stable region where lasting peace becomes attainable and where economic development can take place with the people’s best interests at the center.

Sincerely,

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)

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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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