Marking Myanmar Coup Anniversary, Western Governments Target Judiciary With Sanctions

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Marking Myanmar Coup Anniversary, Western Governments Target Judiciary With Sanctions

The coordinated move follows a series of recent convictions against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Marking Myanmar Coup Anniversary, Western Governments Target Judiciary With Sanctions

An empty highway in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw.

Credit: Flickr/Susan Lee

To mark the anniversary of Myanmar’s coup d’etat, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States have imposed coordinated sanctions on top members of Myanmar’s judiciary.

In a statement yesterday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it was placing sanctions on Attorney General Thida Oo, Supreme Court Chief Justice Tun Tun Oo, and Tin Oo, the chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission. It said that all three were closely involved in the “politically motivated” prosecution of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) government.

“As long as the regime continues to deny the people of Burma their democratic voice, we will continue to impose further costs on the military and its supporters,” President Joe Biden said in a separate statement marking the anniversary. “To the people of Burma: We have not forgotten your struggle. And we will continue to support your valiant determination to bring democracy and the rule of law to your country.”

The U.K. government imposed sanctions on Thida Oo and Tin Oo, as well as Thein Soe, the chair of the military-appointed Union Election Commission, which in July annulled the result of the 2020 election that saw a landslide victory for the NLD.

As British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss put it in a statement yesterday, “All 3 individuals are responsible for disregarding the Myanmar election results in November 2020 and supporting unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud in an attempt to legitimize the coup.”

“The U.K. will always defend the right to freedom, democracy, and the rule of law,”  she added. “With like-minded nations, we will hold to account this suppressive, brutal regime.”

Canada imposed sanctions on the same three judicial officials as the U.S. government, with the government noting in a statement that the trio were “using their respective roles to abuse the rule of law and remove political opposition, thus contributing to a grave breach of international peace and the deteriorating security situation.”

The U.S. government also imposed sanctions on a number of other entities, including the KT Services and Logistics Company, which operates a major port in Yangon, and its CEO, as well as the prominent local tycoon Tay Za who has links to the Myanmar military dating back to the 1990s and whose Htoo  Group was sanctioned by the U.K. in September.

The targeting of key members of Myanmar’s judiciary is likely a response to the recent convictions of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has now been sentenced to a total of six years in prison for incitement, the illegal possession of walkie-talkies, and breaching COVID-19 restrictions. Yesterday, the ousted leader was charged with electoral fraud, adding to the more than a dozen charges that have been lodged against her since the coup. The move also suggests that these three governments acknowledge no distinction between the Myanmar judiciary and the military authorities that it serves.

The coordinated imposition marks the latest step in the incremental tightening of the economic pressure on the military junta, and in the case of the U.S. government, an attempt to begin going after key individuals involved in procuring equipment for the Myanmar military, but stops short of going after its main sources of revenue. In recent weeks, activists have redoubled their calls for Western nations to impose sanctions on the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which channels a large part of the $1 billion in oil and gas revenues that the Myanmar state earns each year, its single largest source of foreign currency revenue.

The calls for sanctions on MOGE grew louder after last month’s withdrawal of three major Western oil firms from Myanmar, citing the deteriorating human rights situation. As the U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch argued, the military administration “will continue to collect massive revenues from natural gas and other extractive sectors unless new targeted sanctions block foreign currency payments supporting the junta’s abusive rule.” It recommended that the U.S., U.K., European Union, Japan, and other concerned governments “adopt a common position to impose sanctions on all natural gas revenues.”

Short of this kind of across-the-board effort to tackle the junta’s revenues, the targeting of a handful of additional individuals is unlikely to have much of an impact on the junta’s willingness to prosecute its war against the anti-coup resistance, whatever the cost to Myanmar and its people.