Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK
The foreign ministers of the G7, economically seven of the most powerful countries in the world, just issued a communiqué which condemned airstrikes, called for an arms embargo, and called for the release of all political prisoners. The statement demonstrated that Myanmar is still on their agenda and contained important language blaming the Myanmar military for violence, rather than using ‘all sides’ language.
The statement highlighted many important issues. Of course, there is a lot left out that could and should have been said, but compared to many international statements on the situation in Myanmar it contained stronger clearer messaging. Diplomats negotiating the text would be justifiably pleased about the strength and breadth of what was included. It’s a diplomatic success. The statement is available here.
There is, however, a problem. The foreign ministers didn’t pledge to do a single thing about the human rights violations they condemn, or the problems they highlighted. They made not one commitment for action.
More than that, companies from several of the G7 countries are still helping to fund the Myanmar military and the human rights violations they commit. American and Japanese companies help fund the purchase of arms used by the Myanmar military. G7 members have failed to provide funding for the people they call for humanitarian access to. The statement ignores political realities on the ground. The G7 calls for things they know won’t happen and support things which they know have already failed.
Looking at the statement in more detail:
We continue to strongly condemn the military coup in Myanmar, remain deeply concerned about the deteriorating security, humanitarian, human rights, and political situation, and express our solidarity with its people.
Condemnation, no action. Myanmar people are so tired of statements of condemnation and concern without any action. Expressions of solidarity while still not imposing sanctions to help cut the economic lifeline of the military ring hollow.
We strongly condemn the April 11 airstrike by the Myanmar military in Kanbalu Township in Sagaing Region that killed a large number of civilians, including children.
More condemnation without action. Only Canada has sanctions against supplying aviation fuel to Myanmar. Companies from several G7 countries have been involved in the supply chain delivering aviation fuel to Myanmar.
We call on the Myanmar military to immediately cease all violence, release all political prisoners and those arbitrarily detained, …
They know the military won’t do this. For decades calls like this have been completely ignored. The G7 countries need to take practical action to force the military to do this, including cutting off sources of revenue, equipment, and arms. There is still much more that they can do.
…and return the country to a genuinely democratic path.
Myanmar wasn’t on a democratic path. Prior to the attempted military coup which began on Feb. 1, 2021 Myanmar was under a military-drafted constitution, which was not genuinely democratic and gave the military independence from any elected government, guaranteed seats in Parliament and government, and control over three ministries. Rohingya were banned from voting. There was no transition to democracy. The military imposed its 2008 Constitution and refused to accept any change to it. Returning to what was before would be a disaster for the people of Myanmar, especially for ethnic people who suffered genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during the so-called ‘democratic transition’ period.
We condemn further exclusion of 40 Myanmar political parties, including the National League for Democracy (NLD), from the political process by the Myanmar military.
It is good that this was highlighted but alarming that it did not go further. The context of the effective backdoor banning of these politics is sham elections at some point in the future which the Myanmar military will try to use to claim legitimacy for their rule. The statement should have specifically rejected the credibility of any so-called ‘elections’ planned by the military. It didn’t. Why not?
The Myanmar military should create an environment for inclusive and peaceful dialogue, which includes all relevant stakeholders in the country.
Once again, members of the international community are effectively asking the people of Myanmar to compromise with their oppressor. The military has a track record of only engaging in dialogue as a means of trying to avoid stronger international action and domestic resistance. They have never engaged in any genuine dialogue process which has led to them compromising on anything.
The Myanmar military have committed genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity against the people of Myanmar. They have looted the wealth of the country, denied democracy, and undermined economic development for more than 60 years. They are a corrupt, nepotistic, criminal organisation.
It is inconceivable that had any G7 member been suffering from the actions of such a regime in their country they would accept being told they should enter into dialogue and compromise, which is what this sentence amounts to.
There can be no future for Myanmar democratically, economically, or where human rights are respected, while the military still has any form of role in the country. The current Myanmar military needs to be completely dismantled and its leadership and members held to account for their crimes.
The Myanmar military will only enter into any real dialogue when it believes it has no other choice and it will be a potential means for its survival. The people of Myanmar are making huge sacrifices to resist and remove the Myanmar military. They do not want to be pressured by the international community to enter into dialogue and compromise with the military just when they are at their most vulnerable. This would be offering the military a lifeline that would enable them to continue the cycle of violence and oppression they have perpetrated.
We also call for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people, especially the most vulnerable.
There is a huge humanitarian crisis in the country with rapidly escalating poverty and around two million internally displaced people. It is right to call for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, but the G7 don’t need to wait for the Myanmar military to give permission. Nor should they ever have allowed the Myanmar military to have an effective veto over who can and who cannot receive aid. Many international donors, including the UK, have cut aid to Myanmar since the attempted coup began, despite the massive increase in humanitarian need.
Millions of people in desperate need of aid could be reached now if G7 members were willing to adapt their policies to the context of Myanmar and cut the red tape which is costing lives. Myanmar civil society organisations (CSOs) across the country have the capacity to do much more. Many can reach people international agencies cannot. The G7 don’t need to wait for the military to give permission to deliver lifesaving aid. They can significantly expand funding for local civil society using cross border and other mechanisms. They can cut the box-ticking red tape bureaucracy designed for delivering aid in peaceful countries with cooperative governments. They didn’t pledge to work together to do this. Instead, they made a call which they know the military will ignore, as it has for decades.
We continue to support ASEAN’s efforts to implement the Five-Point Consensus, including through the ASEAN Chair and ASEAN Special Envoy to Myanmar.
The G7 really did just pledge its support for a process which has completely failed. Even on its best day the Five-Point Consensus was a pretty weak and ineffective response to the military coup, and even this weak compromise has failed. All G7 members know it has failed. The Myanmar military just ignored it. Even when ASEAN gave up on the points addressing ending violence, dialogue, and its own special envoy meeting all parties, and instead tried to focus on delivering humanitarian assistance, they still failed. ASEAN is hopelessly divided over how to respond to this failure and unwilling to admit its failure and give up on its zombie consensus.
We also reaffirm support for the UN Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) on Myanmar…
The current UN Envoy has failed to have any practical impact on the situation in Myanmar, as have all her predecessors going back almost 20 years. The current UN Envoy has alarmed many Myanmar CSOs with language about power sharing and by her decision to be the first UN Envoy to agree to visit Myanmar without being allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi in detention, or other political leaders. This was a hugely damaging decision sending a terrible message to the military without any political upside. Having failed to make significant progress politically, the UN Envoy has, like ASEAN, fallen back on trying to address the humanitarian situation, but also with little success.
While there have been serious concerns about the actions and positions taken by current and previous UN Envoys, the real problem is the position itself, which is simply not respected by the military and does not carry enough weight to be significantly influential with regional countries either. Given this track record of failure, the UN Secretary General should personally take the lead on the situation in Myanmar.
… and welcome UNSCR 2669 on the situation in Myanmar, which calls for the immediate cessation of violence, the respect for human rights and fundamental freedom, and the protection of civilians.
The UN Security Council resolution, like this G7 Statement, was a success diplomatically, but one with no significant impact on the ground. The resolution was non-binding and contained no punitive measures. It could be considered a possible stepping-stone to further action, but this is unlikely given the veto power of Russia and China. The G7 doesn’t have that problem, but still decided not to take any practical action. This year’s G7 statement demonstrates that previous G7 statements in 2021 and 2022 were not stepping-stones towards action. They were just statements.
We reiterate our call on all states to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar.
The 2021 G7 foreign ministers’ communiqué was significant in that it was the first time Japan committed to stop arms transfers to Myanmar. However, Japanese companies still fund the Myanmar military, enabling the military to purchase arms from other countries. As do U.S. companies, and a Canadian company now has a 41 percent stake in the Yadana gas field. Cutting arms to the military in Myanmar is nonsense if countries don’t also cut off the supply of money to purchase arms. G7 members should also have named and shamed Russia, China, India and Pakistan for arming the Myanmar military.
We stress the need to create conditions for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of all displaced persons, including Rohingya refugees.
This vague language has been used for many years now and countries using it carefully avoid specifying what they actually mean by it in practice and avoid committing themselves to anything specific to help make it happen. At the current time, safe return for refugees and displaced people is inconceivable. As well as action to prevent the supply of aviation fuel, arms and revenue which helps the Myanmar military create huge displacement and the refugee crisis, G7 members could be committing to provide more assistance to displaced people and refugees. Instead, Rohingya refugees are facing ration cuts, with the U.K. cutting support to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh by 82 percent. As also described earlier, G7 members are also failing to provide enough aid, or work with CSOs to provide flexible funding to reach more internally displaced people.
Statements of solidarity and condemnation have an important role. But when they come without action, and are not even stepping stones towards action, they create anger, frustration, and disappointment. The G7 statement is a diplomatic success, but without practical action, it is also a failure.