Several civil society groups withdrew their participation from the human rights dialogue between the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held on October 3 in Brussels after representatives of Myanmar’s military government were invited to the event.
The EU-ASEAN Policy Dialogue on Human Rights is a high-level biennial event which was launched in 2015 to discuss “shared concerns on human rights, identify key challenges, and articulate a strategic framework for the EU-ASEAN collaboration.” Among the highlights of this year’s dialogue was the inaugural participation of Timor-Leste as an observer.
In a joint statement issued on October 2, several human rights groups described the invitation as “shameful” and “incomprehensible” as they pointed out that the EU has previously refused to recognize the military regime which grabbed power through the February 2021 coup.
“We reject in the strongest possible terms any effort that may be perceived as legitimizing the junta,” the groups added.
Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), which represents the deposed civilian government, expressed dismay over the invitation extended to junta representatives.
The Myanmar junta is brutalizing its own people, murdering civil society activists, health workers, teachers and schoolchildren alike, and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. We are dismayed to see the participation of the junta representatives in the EU-Asean CSOs Forum, in place of the legitimate democratically-elected representatives of Myanmar.
Chin Human Rights Organization is among the Myanmar groups which criticized the EU and ASEAN.
Allowing the junta’s reps to attend EU-ASEAN rights policy dialogue is like letting an accused criminal to serve as a jury member for his own criminal trial. The regional blocs must stop hiding behind ‘technical’ veil to engage the murderous regime at #Myanmar people’s expense. https://t.co/sJ3pjdnv8q
— ChinHumanRightsOrg (@ChinHumanRights) September 30, 2023
Heidi Hautala, vice president of the European Parliament, was surprised to learn about the invitation to junta supporters.
It is shocking and unacceptable that EU has accepted participation of the #Myanmar murderous junta in the EU-ASEAN CSOs Forum on Human Rights in Brussels. Clearly only the people’s legitimate representatives #NUG & co should be there. It is not too late to correct the decision. https://t.co/DKzEWCbPKr
— Heidi Hautala (@HeidiHautala) October 2, 2023
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights joined civil society groups in asking the EU to retract its invitation to the junta because of its political implications. “The invitation suggests that the EU is normalizing relations with the junta, rather than pro-democracy stakeholders such as the NUG,” they said in a statement.
Despite the appeal of various groups and leaders, the dialogue proceeded with the participation of two Myanmar junta supporters—Soe Lynn Han, the ambassador of Myanmar to Belgium and the Netherlands, and Khin Myo Myat, the political adviser at the embassy.
This prompted Forum Asia, which was supposed to be the co-chair of the forum, to leave the dialogue.
As a human rights organisation that champions people’s fundamental freedoms, we stand by our non-engagement policy with the junta, a perpetrator of grave human rights violations. We are in solidarity with the people of Myanmar and our Myanmar member organisations. We support their call to not lend further legitimacy and credibility to the junta.
In addition, the mere presence of officials loyal to the junta in such an event could compromise the safety and security of participating human rights activists who are expected to return to Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries.
The Myanmar junta security forces have carried out mass killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual violence, and other abuses that amount to crimes against humanity. Freedoms of speech and assembly are severely restricted. The junta’s ineptitude and mismanagement of the country’s economy since the coup has heightened the suffering of the population and entrenched a climate of fear and insecurity.