Aung Shine Oo/AP
Myanmar’s military leader, General-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing.
New Zealand has joined the boycott of an upcoming counter-terrorism meeting co-chaired by the Russian and Burmese military, in a move hailed by activists.
The decision marks a change in tone from just months ago, when Kiwi defense officials said the government could not “unilaterally make decisions” on which other countries participated in international forums.
Last month, Myanmar Now reported that the Australian government had withdrawn from a meeting of counter-terrorism experts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), excluding the physical and virtual participation for the first time since 2011.
The meeting is due to be held in Moscow from July 20-21, with Myanmar and Russia co-chairing the counterterrorism task force since early 2021.
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Both countries have drawn global condemnation for human rights abuses, following Myanmar’s military coup in early 2021 and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Now New Zealand have followed Australia’s lead in withdrawing from the Moscow event.
Michael Swain, the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for defense policy and planning, told Newsroom that the government would not attend or participate in the proceedings.
“Officials are carefully considering these invitations based on New Zealand’s interests. We have concluded that the benefits of being present to convey New Zealand’s views are outweighed by the risks of being portrayed by Russia and Myanmar as supporting their approach.
In May, Newsroom reported concerns about the government’s “legitimization” of regimes in both countries by attending international meetings, including a meeting of senior ASEAN defense officials in Cambodia that month.
In a response at the time, a Defense Ministry official said: “We respect ASEAN’s role as the organizer of this process. We cannot unilaterally decide how other members participate in these forums. »
“We continue to engage in this process to speak directly to these issues that concern New Zealanders,” the official added.
Green Party foreign affairs spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman said she supported the government’s decision. Although the Greens support diplomacy and dialogue, it would not be appropriate to engage with Myanmar or Russia in the fight against terrorism.
“Their action as a host of a forum sends absolutely the wrong messages, especially to victim communities, that the perpetrators of these crimes can be recognized internationally.”
Ghahraman said the government should speak out more strongly against the illegitimacy of military rule in Myanmar.
Justice for Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung told Newsroom that the activist group supports the boycott of New Zealand “which should send a strong message to ASEAN and its other dialogue partners who continue to legitimize Myanmar’s military junta”.
“The ASEAN Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar has failed to stop the junta’s extreme acts of violence, which include indiscriminate airstrikes, bombings, arbitrary arrests, killings, rapes and beatings. tortures.
“Lending the murderous junta legitimacy, a platform and opportunities for military cooperation has emboldened it to commit further atrocities, making it likely that ASEAN is complicit in the junta’s international crimes.”
Maung said New Zealand should also refuse to participate in other ASEAN meetings where the junta was present, as well as support the national unity government and impose sanctions on military leaders and their commercial interests.
The location of the counter-terrorism meeting in Moscow may be a factor in the change in approach, as well as the fact that Myanmar and Russia are participating as co-chairs rather than just participants.
While New Zealand’s stance on Myanmar has not garnered much public attention, Australia has come under pressure from civil society groups to take a tougher stance against military rule. .
Last week, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said further sanctions against the junta were “actively considered” by Canberra.
Aotearoa is unable to follow suit due to the lack of a stand-alone sanctions regime, while China and Russia have reportedly blocked attempts at action through the UN.
Earlier this year, the government extended travel bans to officials associated with the coup, with Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta calling for “an immediate end to all violence and the release of all those arbitrarily detained.” , including Aung San Suu Kyi and others who continue to face politically motivated charges.”