Updated: February 19, 2021 09:00 AM GMT
Myanmar musicians perform outside the British embassy during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on Feb. 19. (Photo: AFP)
The generals who toppled Myanmar’s civilian government are facing increasing pressure from the world as Britain and Canada imposed sanctions following those imposed by the US last week.
Britain said it would impose asset freezes and travel bans on three generals, while Canada will take action against nine military officials under the Special Economic Measures Act, which allows the government to essentially freeze their assets.
“We, alongside our international allies, will hold the Myanmar military to account for their violations of human rights and pursue justice for the Myanmar people,” British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said.
“Canada stands with the people of Myanmar in their quest for democracy and human rights,” Canada's Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said.
Britain has already slapped sanctions on junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, accusing him of rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities.
Myanmar’s coup has drawn strong condemnation from Western countries as the junta detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other government officials, sparking nationwide anti-coup protests.
While the generals are facing increasing diplomatic pressure from the international community, daily protests with large turnouts and a growing civil disobedience movement have affected the functioning of government ministries.
Thousands of people took to the streets in several cities on Feb. 19 to display their opposition to military rule and show public support for the government they voted for in the 2020 general election.
The nationwide protests are largely peaceful and are the biggest in the Southeast Asian nation since the 1988 uprising and 2007 Saffron Revolution when the protesters faced a bloody military crackdown.
Pope Francis is among the world leaders who have condemned the coup and expressed solidarity with the people of Myanmar.
Myanmar’s outspoken Cardinal Charles Bo called on the international community to engage the actors in reconciliation as sanctions and condemnations brought few results and they closed doors and shut out dialogue.
“The international community needs to deal with the reality, understanding well Myanmar’s history and political economy, throwing millions into poverty,” Cardinal Bo said in an appeal letter on Feb. 4.
Rights groups have called on governments to impose targeted sanctions on the generals responsible for the Feb. 1 coup which overthrew democratic rule and the ensuing arbitrary arrests and other abuses.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Feb. 18 in a new question-and-answer document on sanctions policy related to Myanmar that targeted sanctions should also be imposed on military-owned companies providing direct revenue to the military and its leaders.
“The Myanmar military was not expecting so much popular outrage over their coup, and they were counting on a fractured and weak international response,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at HRW.
“It’s up to the international community to stand with the people of Myanmar and show the generals that they have miscalculated and that they need to back down.”
Hundreds of people including top civilian leaders, journalists, civil society and protest leaders have arbitrarily been arrested following the coup and the junta has repeatedly cut internet access across the country during periods when the authorities are making arrests, according to the rights group.
HRW’s document outlines how countries can use targeted sanctions to restrict assets and revenues to the military and its generals while avoiding broader economic effects on the Myanmar economy and its people.
It describes how targeted measures can be imposed on the junta’s leadership and key conglomerates including the Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited, both of which provide much of their revenue directly to military officers and the military itself.