Payne calls for end to Myanmar’s attack on civilians, release of Sean Turnell

By Melissa Coade

February 2, 2022

Marise Payne
In this July 28, 2020, file photo, Marise Payne announces Australia has suspended its defence cooperation with Myanmar and is redirecting humanitarian aid because of the military takeover of the government and ongoing detention of an Australian citizen. (Brendan Smialowski/AP)

Australia’s foreign minister has used the first anniversary of a military coup that overthrew the government of Myanmar to call for the country to ‘return to the path of democracy’ and end all violent action towards its citizens, including the release of an Australian man who was advising the former government.

Australian economist Sean Turnell was a former economic policy advisor to the now-deposed and imprisoned Myanmar president Aung San Suu Kyi. He was arrested when the military seized power last February and has been accused of violating the country’s official secrets law.

On Monday, Marise Payne issued a statement acknowledging the ambit of human rights abuses Myanmar’s military leaders had committed against its own people in the last 12 months. 

She said that since February 1, 2021, horrific violence and disregard to basic freedoms by military forces had triggered humanitarian, security, health and economic crises across Myanmar. 

“Australia condemns the use of violence against civilians and other serious human rights violations,” Payne said. 

“We urge the military to exercise restraint and to release all those arbitrarily detained, including Australian Professor Sean Turnell.”

With Australia’s support, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc of nations have been working to cooperate with the Myanmar military junta to implement a five-point consensus document signed off last April

Payne said that Australia endorsed the efforts of Dato Erywan, special envoy of the ASEAN chair on Myanmar, as well as the work of Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the United Nations to bring the military junta to the negotiating table.

“We also call on the military to engage meaningfully in inclusive dialogue for a peaceful return of Myanmar to the path of democracy,” Payne said. 

“Australia will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those most in need and remains committed to working with regional and international partners in response to these crises.”

Kristina Keneally, Labor’s acting shadow minister for foreign affairs, released a statement urging the Australian federal government to implement targeted sanctions against those responsible for the coup.

“Our thoughts are with Mr Turnell and his loved ones. We again call for his release. 

“We join calls from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Human Rights Watch and the Australian Council for International Development, as well as many other NGOs, for targeted sanctions against the Tatmadaw and linked entities,” Keneally said. 

Marking the one-year anniversary of the coup, the US, Canada and the UK announced that in addition to sanctions against the junta’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and other members of the military, they would also place sanctions on judicial officers involved in prosecuting members of the deposed Myanmar government.

Senator Keneally said it was high time Australia had a more meaningful response to the situation in Myanmar, especially given last June a government-chaired joint standing committee on foreign affairs and trade recommended sanctions against the Myanmar military. Then again, in August, the government was reminded of this recommendation by the joint standing committee on treaties. 

“At every stage of this crisis in our region, the Morrison-Joyce government has acted too late and done too little to demonstrate Australia’s opposition to the coup,” she said. 

“While many of our like-minded partners have taken strong actions, Mr Morrison still refuses to implement additional targeted sanctions against the Tatmadaw.”

The foreign minister added an appeal to the Myanmar military to allow humanitarian assistance to be delivered to those in need.

Payne also joined the High Representative on behalf of the European Union, and the Foreign Ministers of Albania, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States in a separate statement concerning the situation in Myanmar.


Thanks to the internet, we know what’s happening in Myanmar. But a communication blackout may be near

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