The Australian government has condemned the actions of the Myanmar military after the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi was detained in what appears to be a military coup.
However, it’s hard to take the words of our own government seriously when its actions are the complete opposite. They’ve spent at least $400,000 of taxpayer money on funding the very people they’re now condemning. There’s the more than $3 million to a company heavily linked to the Myanmar military. And you expect us to take your words of condemnation without so much as a raised eyebrow? Right.
Let me explain.
What Is The Rohingya Genocide?
Although you may have only heard of the situation today, Myanmar has been in turmoil since 2016, when the Rohingya genocide began.
In August of 2017, the genocide resulted in hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing across the border into Bangladesh by land or sea to escape what was later described by the UN as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The Rohingya Genocide is a huge humanitarian crisis that deserves a thousand-word explainer in itself, but to put an extremely complex situation incredibly simply: the Myanmar military stands accused of mass atrocities towards the ethnic and religious minority group, and against the foundations of democracy.
According to The Guardian, “clearance operations” began in August of 2017, which involved the murder, gang rape and torture of Rohingya Muslims, with others burned alive in their homes while some 700,000 managed to flee across the border to relative safety.
What Is Happening In Myanmar Right Now?
Tensions in the country have been rising since November, when the country’s ruling party – The National League for Democracy – declared a landslide victory in the election.
This claim was instantly met with scepticism and claims of fraud by the Myanmar military, which brings us to today.
This is where the situation gets messy because the NLD is also very questionable and has done a number of extremely non-democratic things, despite priding themselves on that value. Essentially, we’re looking at a country that is riddled with a military and a government that oppose each other but are also both pretty problematic, so it’s a bit of a lesser of two evils situation here – the NLD being the lesser.
The past few days in Myanmar have been especially tense, prompting our own government to issue a warning.
However, it climaxed on Monday when the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other high-ranking political figures were detained by the military in the early hours of the morning.
The move came as the country’s parliament was due to start sitting for the year on February 1, marking the first official day of the administration since the November election.
Following the leaders’ arrest, the Myanmar military seized and declared control of the country for the next year, citing a state of emergency.
BREAKING: Myanmar military television says military has taken control of the country for one year. https://t.co/s2G7ewwVCe
— The Associated Press (@AP) February 1, 2021
What Was Australia’s Response?
Following the news, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne released a statement expressing her deep concern at the situation and urging the military to respect the democratic process.
“The Australian government is deeply concerned at reports the Myanmar military is once again seeking to seize control of Myanmar and has detained State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint,” she said on Monday.
“Australia is a long-standing supporter of Myanmar and its democratic transition. We call on the military to respect the rule of law, to resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms and to release immediately all civilian leaders and others who have been detained unlawfully.
“We strongly support the peaceful reconvening of the National Assembly, consistent with the results of the November 2020 general election.”
A similar statement was issued by the opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong, who said the Labor party “condemns the detention of numerous political and civil society figures in Myanmar”.
“This is a direct attack on Myanmar’s ongoing democratic transition,” she said. “We look to the Australian Government to make clear our expectations that democratic norms are respected and strengthened.”
How Is Australia Actually Involved?
Despite the fact that both sides of the Australian political spectrum have condemned the situation in Myanmar, we can’t exactly wipe our hands clean of any wrongdoing here.
For starters, the Australian Defence Force spent close to $400,000 on training programs for members of the Myanmar military across 2017-18, including – but not limited to – English lessons, event attendance and training courses, despite being well aware of the ethnic cleansing accusations against said military.
More recently, Australia was accused of giving legitimacy and credibility to the Myanmar military in February of 2020 when Australia’s ambassador Andrea Faulker met and exchanged gifts with the military chief accused of committing literal genocide.
According to The Guardian, Faulker met with Min Aung Hlang on January 29, 2020, where they met, exchanged gifts and took photos together, much to the dismay of Human Rights Watch.
“Australia should be sanctioning Min Aung Hlaing, not taking photos and exchanging gifts with someone who should be investigated for mass atrocities,” Elaine Pearson, Australia Director with Human Rights Watch, said at the time.
“In its meetings with Myanmar officials, Australia should never give the impression that it’s business-as-usual with no repercussions for Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya.”
Pearson also wrote to Marise Payne back in 2020 to express concern in our relationship with the Myanmar military, pointing out that the UN withdrew their last peacekeeping soldiers in 2019, which is probably a good sign that we shouldn’t be cosying up to their military.
“If the UN isn’t accepting Myanmar soldiers as peacekeepers due to human rights concerns, Australia shouldn’t be training them to be peacekeepers,” Pearson told the Guardian at the time.
“Instead of cosying up to Myanmar’s leaders, Australia should be suspending assistance to Myanmar’s military until there is genuine progress on rights protection and accountability.”
What About Adani?
Remember back in December 2020 when a freedom of information request revealed that the Australian Government had given $3.2 million to Adani for the Carmichael coal mine through Australia’s Future Fund and everyone promptly lost their minds over it?
Well, apart from the fact that the mine is a huge yikes for anyone concerned about climate change and the ever-growing threat it poses to life as we know it, the use of taxpayer money was also particularly controversial due to Adani’s ties with the Myanmar military.
According to the ABC, Adani Ports and Special Economic Zones (aka the people we chucked a cool $3.2 million worth of taxpayer money to) was recently criticised by the United Nations for making business arrangements that directly financially support the Myanmar military.
And this isn’t new information, either. No. Adani was literally singled out by the UN back in August of 2019 for their ties to the Myanmar military in a report that said no business should “remain in a business relationship of any kind with the security forces of Myanmar.”
The only reason *we* found out about the funding was because human rights lawyer Rawan Arraf submitted a FOI request to obtain the information.
Following the release of the FOI request, Arraf urged the government to divest from Adani immediately as a result of their links to the Myanmar military – which stands accused of literal ethnic cleansing.
However, a spokesperson for the Future Fund told the ABC that despite its clear ties to the Myanmar military (which have been backed by the UN), the government has no sanctions in place against Adani.
“In fact, subsidiaries of the company and other parts of the Adani Group have been approved to conduct business and construction in Australia under Commonwealth and Queensland government processes,” the spokesman said.
If you’re wondering how Adani responded, a spokesperson for the mining giant essentially just said that they “operate under Australian law and regulations” in Australia, and their dealings in Myanmar should therefore be a separate issue.
“While some nations, including Australia, have arms embargos and travel restrictions on key members of the military in place, this does not preclude investment in the nation or business dealings with corporations such as MEC,” the spokeswoman said.
I simply cannot stress enough just how bad it is that our government is quite literally one degree removed from funding the Myanmar military themselves.
“Adani is in bed with the Myanmar military and now it seems the Future Fund is in bed with Adani,” Chris Sidoti, an Australian lawyer and member of the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, told the ABC.
“Australia’s sovereign wealth fund should follow the lead of similar funds in other countries [moving] towards disinvesting from companies in league with Myanmar’s murderous military.”
So What Can We Do About It?
Well, we live in the age of social media, so it’s truly only a matter of time before your feed is flooded with aesthetically pleasing infographics and ~threads~ on how you can help, which is great but as an Australian, the best way you can help the situation is to urge our own government to do something.
Sure, you can donate to a GoFundMe campaign and share a nice infographic on your Instagram story, but the reality of the matter is that millions of our taxpayer dollars are helping to fund the bad guys in this situation, so the absolute best way you can help is by writing to your local, state and federal politicians urging them to immediately divest from Adani and cut ties with the Myanmar military both directly and indirectly.
You can write directly to Prime Minister Scott Morrison here.