ASEAN's complicity in the Myanmar military's atrocity crimes

May 10, 2022

Through ASEAN’s defence sector, part of the bloc’s vision of a Political-Security Community, ASEAN and its defence partners have deep and sustained contact with the Myanmar military at multiple levels.

ASEAN’s defence program has allowed the Myanmar military to participate in meetings, training, intelligence exchanges, arms production, R&D, cyber security, and education.

The Myanmar military’s involvement in ASEAN has supported it to build its capabilities, access arms, find sources of revenue, seek international legitimacy, develop content for propaganda purposes, and forge bilateral military ties with ASEAN members and regional powers.

It is appalling that ASEAN has been engaging with the Myanmar military, knowing that it has repeatedly violated international human rights and humanitarian law, committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity with total impunity.

Since the Myanmar military began an illegal attempted coup on February 1, 2021, ASEAN has allowed the military to continue to participate in a full calendar of ASEAN defence sector activities, including as co-chair of the bloc’s defence working group on counter terrorism with the Russian regime.

The Myanmar military junta is an illegitimate, self-appointed body with no democratic mandate to be recognised as a government. It does not have control of Myanmar and does not represent Myanmar at the United Nations.

Yet, by allowing the junta’s participation, ASEAN is wrongly treating it as if it were a government.

As the region’s key intergovernmental organisation, ASEAN could help prevent the Myanmar military’s commission of atrocity crimes. Yet it has not only repeatedly failed to take action, but is complicit in those crimes by providing support and legitimacy to the Myanmar military.

The central role ASEAN plays in the Indo-Pacific region has impeded coordinated international action to stop the Myanmar military’s international crimes, and has provided cover for a lack of action by the regional democracies Australia, Japan and South Korea.

ASEAN has therefore enabled the Myanmar military’s crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Through ongoing defence and military cooperation, it is likely that ASEAN is aiding and abetting the Myanmar military’s atrocity crimes.

Justice For Myanmar calls on ASEAN and its partners to immediately exclude the Myanmar military junta from all meetings and activities, including removing it from its leadership of the defence working group on counter terrorism.

ASEAN must now recognise and engage with the National Unity Government as the legitimate government of Myanmar.

The highest body within the ASEAN defence sector is the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) of member state defence ministers, and ADMM-Plus, which include defence ministers from partner countries. A main objective of ADMM is to realise an “ASEAN Security Community”, which is one of ASEAN’s three pillars.  

The framework of the security community was agreed to in the Bali Concord II, which envisaged “a just, democratic and harmonious environment”. Section A.4 states, “the ASEAN Security Community shall abide by the UN Charter and other principles of international law”. ASEAN’s engagement with the Myanmar military has breached these Bali Concord II principles.

At lower levels, the ASEAN Defence Senior Officials’ Meeting (ADSOM) and ADSOM-Plus endorse policy recommendations for ADMM that are developed in ADSOM working groups.

ADMM operates seven experts’ working groups that focus on “practical cooperation”, including field training exercises. Each working group has revolving co-chairs that consist of one ASEAN member state and an ADMM-Plus country, with the aim of building defence and security capacity in the region.

ADMM’s seven Experts’ Working Groups and current co-chairs are Counter Terrorism (Myanmar junta and Russia); Maritime Security (Thailand and USA); Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Management (Indonesia and India); Peacekeeping Operations (Vietnam and Japan); Military Medicine (Brunei and Australia); Humanitarian Mine Action (Cambodia and China); and Cyber Security (Malaysia and South Korea).

At the military level, ASEAN convenes meetings for chiefs of defence forces, army commanders, air force chiefs, navy chiefs, military intelligence chiefs, among others.

Under the ASEAN Regional Forum, defence engagement takes place through the Security Policy Conference and the Defence Officials’ Dialogue.

Other ASEAN defence sector initiatives include the ASEAN Defence Interaction Programmes, ASEAN Defence Industry Collaboration, military operations meetings, intelligence sharing, cyber security, communications, military training, education and exchanges.

ASEAN’s current defence cooperation is organised under the ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint 2025, agreed to in 2015. Plans include to enhance the role of ADMM, including in practical cooperation (b.1.a.iv); to enhance the participation of defence officials in the ASEAN Regional Forum (B.4.2.iv); to promote defence and military cooperation between military universities through the ASEAN Regional Forum (B.1.3.vii); to enhance counter terrorism cooperation (B.3.2); to “explore the use of relevant technologies to manage borders more effectively to stem the flow of terrorists and criminals” (B.3.7.i); and to enhance maritime security cooperation (B.6.2).

Responding to terrorism has been a priority for ASEAN, included in the framework of the Bali Concord II agreement for the ASEAN Security Community. ASEAN has its own Convention on Counter Terrorism, which is referenced in Myanmar’s 2014 Counter Terrorism Law, enacted by the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party government. ASEAN’s counter terrorism initiatives involve defence, which is covered in this feature, and police.

The Myanmar military’s participation in ASEAN counter terrorism initiatives is particularly egregious given how it has weaponised “counter terrorism” for use against the people of Myanmar, including to commit genocide.

Myanmar’s Counter Terrorism Law lacks safeguards to prevent abuse. A 2017 expert opinion concluded, “it is unclear what investigative or evidential basis is needed to justify declaring a group to be a terrorist organisation”.

Under the former National League for Democracy-led government, military and civilian branches spread hate speechassociating Rohingya identity with terrorism, and the Myanmar military used terrorism as a pretext for the 2017 “clearance operations” against the Rohingya. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army was the first group designated under the Counter Terrorism Law.

On the Myanmar military’s genocide against the Rohingya, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s 2018 report found:

“The response of security forces, launched within hours, was immediate, brutal and grossly disproportionate. Ostensibly to eliminate the “terrorist threat” posed by ARSA [Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army], in the days and weeks that followed, it encompassed hundreds of villages across Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung. The operations targeted and terrorized the entire Rohingya population. The authorities called them “clearance operations”. As a result, by mid-August 2018, nearly 725,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh.”

In 2020, the Myanmar government designated the Arakan Army a terrorist organisation. This provided a justification for the Myanmar military to intensify its attacks in western Myanmar that terrorised ethnic communities and amounted to atrocity crimes.

Following the Myanmar military’s attempted coup, on May 8, the junta designated the National Unity Government, People’s Defence Force and the Committee Representing People’s Hluttaw as “terrorists”, and increased its violent attacks against the people of Myanmar. The junta commits war crimes and crimes against humanity on a daily basis, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, who has also stated that human rights defenders are being targeted with a “brute force terror campaign”.  

In August, despite having no legal basis to act as lawmakers, the junta amended the Counter Terrorism Law for use against democratic actors, increasing prison sentences from three to seven years for “acts of exhortation, persuasion, propaganda and recruitment of any person to participate in any terrorist group or activities of terrorism”.

The Myanmar military has long participated in ASEAN representing Myanmar, despite the fact that it lacks legitimacy as a national military. It is rather one of many armed organisations in Myanmar, but stands out as the group that terrorises the Myanmar people on a national scale, committing atrocity crimes with total impunity. ASEAN has repeatedly awarded the Myanmar military with recognition, emboldening it to commit further crimes and undermining the people’s struggle for federal democracy.

During the Myanmar military’s chair of ADMM in 2014, a proposal was put forward to establish a Militaries Ready Group on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief. In 2015, ADMM approved the concept of the group, which involved a military representative becoming a member of the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Centre (AHA), with a minimum rank of Major. This has helped entrench the position of the Myanmar military in the AHA Centre, as it attempts to weapoinise humanitarian aid.

In October 2017, as the Myanmar military committed mass murder, rape and gang rape and forced displacement of Rohingya, Lt Gen Sein Win attended an ASEAN defence ministers’ meeting on countering violent extremism. At the meeting, ASEAN members pledged to strengthen military cooperation and intelligence sharing to combat terrorism. The meeting statement makes no mention of the genocide against the Rohingya that Sein Win was complicit in, or the extremist Buddhist nationalism incited by the Myanmar military that the meeting was ostensibly supposed to counter.

The Rohingya genocide was raised within ADMM as a security issue. An October 2017 statement by the ADMM-Plus chairman noted discussions on the “situation” in Myanmar and the “threat” of migration to neighbouring countries, an example of ASEAN’s disregard for international law and norms.

In February 2018, ASEAN defence ministers issued a joint statement condemning terrorism and pledging, “we will step up practical cooperation through joint exercises and training, information sharing, and increase dialogue.” The statement again makes no mention of the Myanmar military terrorising Rohingya and other ethnic people.

At a military level, cooperation was increased in 2018 during Singapore’s chair of ASEAN. An inaugural ASEAN Armies Information Sharing Workshop was held in July, as a new initiative of the ASEAN Chiefs of Army Multilateral Meeting. Myanmar military delegates included a senior member of the notorious Military Security Affairs, the military’s intelligence apparatus, who joined a roundtable in which participants shared their commitment to “regional peace, security and stability”.

In October 2018, Lt Gen Sein Win joined ASEAN defence ministers and ADMM-Plus countries, including Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, and the USA, in condemning terrorism, pledging to strengthen counter terrorism capacity building and intelligence, and to “step up practical military-to-military cooperation” through ASEAN’s defence working group on counter terrorism. The statement failed to mention the Myanmar military’s ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed under the pretence of counter terrorism.

In 2019, Lt Gen Sein Win joined ASEAN defence ministers in a joint statement pledging to intensify security cooperation “in response to non-traditional and transnational security threats” by strengthening defence capacity. They adopted the “ASEAN Defence Establishments in Supporting Border Management” concept paper to strengthen cooperation and support for militaries in border management, ignoring the Myanmar military’s weaponization of border controls and citizenship in its genocide against the Rohingya.  

In September 2020, after the International Court of Justice imposed provisional measures on Myanmar as part of the case against Myanmar for the Crime of Genocide, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing attended the ASEAN Chiefs of Defence Forces’ Meeting, urging his fellow generals “to build the one single cohesive and responsive ASEAN community through the unity and friendship [sic]”. He was joined by his deputies, Lt Gen Moe Myint Tun and Lt Gen Ye Win Oo, who became leading members of the military junta.  

ASEAN’s defence sector has continuously included members of the Myanmar military, legitimising and emboldening it as it commits extreme acts of violence against the people of Myanmar.

By engaging with the military, ADMM and its partner countries have systematically undermined the bloc’s Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar, which requires an immediate cessation of violence.  

ADMM’s calendar lists 38 events during Brunei’s chair of ASEAN since February 1, 2021, when the Myanmar military staged its attempted coup. It is likely that the illegitimate junta participated in most, if not all, of the ADMM program.  

For instance, in March 2021, Min Aung Hlaing joined the ASEAN Chiefs of Defence Forces’ Meeting, flanked by Lt Gen Moe Myint Tun and Lt Gen Ye Win Oo. As the Myanmar military deliberately killed peaceful protesters on the streets, the junta head participated in a discussion with other ASEAN generals on the topic, “We care, We Prepare, We Prosper.” Instead of upholding international law, Brunei as host tabled a working paper to deepen military cooperation through the establishment of ASEAN Military Exercises.

In June 2021, junta defence minister General Mya Tun Oo attended ADMM, which approved the establishment of an ASEAN Defence Interaction Program to enhance military cooperation, ignoring the international crimes of the Myanmar military. The proposal features exchanges of experts and personnel; and visits to military facilities.

The same month, Mya Tun Oo joined ADMM Plus with participants from Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and USA. According to junta propaganda, Mya Tun Oo “exchanged views on security challenges in Myanmar” and “current progress of the country”, as well as anti-terrorism cooperation with Russia, while the junta’s terror campaign against the Myanmar people intensified.  

During 2021, Mya Tun Oo also participated in the ADMM retreat and “informal meetings” with Australia and South Korea; and a meeting with China, providing further opportunities for the junta to seek international legitimacy, gain knowledge and experience, and gather material for the military’s domestic propaganda.

In September, as the Myanmar Air Force was carrying out indiscriminate airstrikes in Chin State, Thailand hosted the war criminal General Maung Maung Kyaw at the ASEAN Air Chiefs Conference, which aimed to optimise capabilities and strengthen cooperation.

In November 2021, the war criminal Vice-Senior General Soe Win, a leader of the illegal attempted coup, attended the ASEAN Chiefs of Army Multilateral Meeting. The junta promoted Soe Win’s participation as a “milestone” in the tenth month of their coup attempt, stating that Soe Win led discussions on the army’s role in Covid-19 rehabilitation.  

In reality, the Myanmar military weaponised Covid-19. A recent report from the civil society group, Tanintharyi People’s Voice, found that the military used Covid-19 as an excuse for the isolation and deaths of political prisoners; for restrictions on freedom of expression; and as a rationale for night time raids as part of its terror campaign. ASEAN army chiefs appear to have condoned these human rights violations by giving Soe Win a platform.  

Since Cambodia took over the Chair of ASEAN, the Myanmar military’s participation in ADMM has continued. ADMM is now chaired by Cambodia’s Defence Minister, General Tea Banh, who Human Rights Watch has exposed in their report on Hun Sen’s rights-abusing “Dirty Dozen” generals.

In February 2022, junta representatives travelled to Cambodia for the ASEAN Defence Senior Officials’ Meeting Working Group.

In March, Cambodia hosted the ASEAN Military Intelligence Meeting, ASEAN Chiefs of Defence Forces Meeting and ASEAN Military Operation Meeting.

Lt Gen Ye Win Oo, the Joint Secretary of the junta’s State Administration Council and chief of Military Security Affairs, the military’s intelligence agency, attended in person, ominously discussing the creation of the “ASEAN Military Intelligence Community” with fellow spy chiefs.

A junta propaganda report showed a slide from Ye Win Oo’s presentation on how “terrorists” use social media for recruitment, indoctrination and to conduct attacks, suggesting the meeting was used to build support and cooperation for the military’s attacks against democratic actors and institutions.

During the March meetings, the Myanmar military’s Chief of General Staff, Maung Maung Aye, held bilateral talks with the Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) and Vietnam’s Deputy Defence Minister. According to an official Vietnamese account, Maung Maung Aye “stressed that his country wished to promote defence cooperation with the VPA, affirming to create favorable conditions for Vietnamese citizens and businesses to do business in Myanmar.”  

Vietnam is a source for the Myanmar military to procure equipment and technology, and Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defence is the main investor in the mobile network Mytel, in partnership with military conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation. Recent meetings suggest ADMM is helping the Myanmar military access new sources of revenue and support.

In April, a Russian official and a member of the terrorist junta participated in an ADSOM-Plus Working Group meeting with ASEAN members and defence partners from US, Australian and New Zealand defence ministries, despite the junta’s criminal conduct and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The ADMM 2022 calendar is starting to fill-out, providing the junta with an array of opportunities to seek legitimacy and develop military capabilities, enabling its campaign of terror against the Myanmar people.

From 2015-2019, Thailand and China led the ADMM-Plus Experts’ Working Group on Counter Terrorism, taking over from Singapore and Australia.

In September 2019, the group held tabletop exercises and demonstrations of urban military operations in Thailand that role-played an operation to defeat an invented terrorist group in the fictional country, Chitha. The scenario describes the Chitha Liberation Front mobilising to support the opposition party, and a “Chitha youth community” active on social media to spread “extremist messages” and build support.

In the exercises, Myanmar military personnel cooperated with members of ASEAN member state militaries and militaries from ADMM-Plus countries. Images published on social media show US special forces personnel from the Indo-Pacific Command, as well as Australian and New Zealand military personnel.

In November 2019, an urban counter terrorism field training exercise was held in Guilin, China. War criminal Min Aung Hlaing attended as a VIP, observing Myanmar military personnel train with ASEAN member state militaries and US troops, months after the US sanctioned Min Aung Hlaing for his responsibility in “gross human rights violations, including in extrajudicial killings in northern Rakhine State, Burma, during the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya”.

According to a screengrab published by a participants on Facebook, the exercise involved a special assault team, a mobile strike team, a sniper team, a ground assault team, an air assault team, an information operation team, a reconnaissance team and a blockade team. The Chinese Communist Party-backed Global Times reported 800 soldiers participating from 18 countries, with 10 airplanes, 60 items of armoured equipment and live ammunition training. Other participating countries included Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

In 2021, the Myanmar military became the co-chair of the counter terrorism working group, together with Russia, with the junta convening meetings in June and December.

The group is led by Major General Aung Myo Thant, Deputy Chief of Armed Forces Training, and Major General Grigorii Tiurin of the Operational and Strategic Command of Russia’s Eastern Military District.  

In preparation, members of the Myanmar army travelled to Russia in September 2021 for a bilateral meeting at the Operational and Strategic Command of Russia’s Eastern Military District. It shows that instead of pushing to stop the junta’s violence, ASEAN is actually facilitating the deepening of ties between the junta and Russian military.  

A counter-terrorism symposium was held in October at the National Defence College in Naypyidaw. It featured talks on how the Myanmar military counters terrorism, part of its attempt to justify atrocity crimes that is enabled through participation in the ASEAN Security Community.  

Despite imposing sanctions in response to the military’s illegal coup attempt, the USA and New Zealand attended the junta-led meetings in June and December, with the US sending a member of the Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC).  

Australia, India, Japan and South Korea also participated, further legitimising the junta.

Through a freedom of information request, Australia’s Department of Defence disclosed heavily redacted communication related to their participation in ASEAN’s counter terrorism working group in 2021, giving a glimpse of how the junta is using ASEAN’s counter terrorism platform to bolster its position during its attempted coup, enabled by the ADMM platform and backed by Russia.

An Australian read-out from the June 29-30 meeting states, “Myanmar gave speeches about the threats of international terrorism in Southeast Asia and the cooperation of regional countries to combat terrorist groups. During these speeches, Myanmar linked their current domestic situation (military coup) to CT [counter terrorism] efforts.”

A January 2022 cable, titled “Countering Myanmar’s post-coup narrative”, stated that “Myanmar used its co-chair of an ASEAN defence working group on counter-terrorism to label Myanmar’s National Unity Government and its affiliates as terrorists”, including through the draft official record of the June meeting.

It is unclear if the junta’s draft record was approved. A December 2021 email from the Department of Defence to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade states that Russia objected to amendments to the June record calling on the Myanmar junta to “cease violence”. It also shows there was a procedural disagreement related to Myanmar.

The Myanmar junta circulated an agenda in advance of the December meeting, which included a presentation titled, “The recent terrorist actions taken place in Myanmar”.  

While Australian officials planned to raise objections in the meeting, they chose to participate in the counter terrorism meeting with all ASEAN member states and defence partners, convened by the terrorist Myanmar military junta.

The meetings have been used by the junta in its public propaganda. For instance, a junta article on the December meeting reports on Major General Aung Myo Thant’s speech, “highlighting… the terrorist activities of NUG and PDF, electoral fraud which led to the state of emergency declared by Tatmadaw to maintain the State affairs, efforts of Tatmadaw in various ways to peacefully find a solution on vote-rigging, the NLD government’s multiple rejections on the discussion and its intent to form a new government with controversial election results.”

Aung Myo Thant concluded, “he couldn’t understand why some powerful democratic nations are finding it difficult to name CRPH, NUG and PDF as terrorist groups, even though they are aware of their acts of terrorism. He also called on the international community for cooperation to end acts of terrorism that are based on political gain, in order to ensure regional stability.”

The junta propaganda piece was published with a screengrab of the meeting, communicating to the Myanmar people, many of whom are resisting the military’s violent coup attempt to defend their democracy and their life, that ASEAN members and their defence partners support the junta’s leadership of a regional counter terrorism group.  

The terrorist junta is now working with Russia to plan counter terrorism military exercises, to be held in either Myanmar or Russia in late 2023.  

Australia’s cable states that they participate in the working group because it is multilateral, while they have ceased bilateral defence engagement with the Myanmar military. In the December meeting, Australia raised concerns with the Myanmar military representatives regarding violence and the junta’s designation of democratic actors as “terrorist”, while it also “emphasised the importance of keeping the ADMM+ EWG focused on operational and technical cooperation”. The cable concluded that Australia will continue to participate in the group under the junta and Russia, for reasons that are redacted.

Explore the evidence

Australian Govt. Department of Defence schedule of documents for release under the Freedom of Information Act (May 6, 2022): Download PDF (151 kb)

Australian Govt. Department of Defence documents for release under the Freedom of Information Act (May 6, 2022): Download PDF (10.8 mb)

Australian Govt. Department of Defence statement of reasons under the Freedom of Information Act (May 6, 2022): Download PDF (266 kb)

The Myanmar Navy is responsible for atrocity crimes. It took part in the 2017 campaign of genocide against the Rohingya. Reuters reported that naval boats carried light infantry troops to northern Arakan State to launch their attacks against Rohingya villagers.  

As part of the military’s brutal offensive against the Arakan Army, the navy’s crimes include firing on civilians, and detaining villagers on vessels where they have been tortured. In 2020, the navy attacked a Red Cross vessel delivering aid, killing one man and injuring two.

The navy regularly intercepts boats carrying Rohingya people fleeing the genocidal Myanmar military, subjecting those on board to arbitrary detention and other human rights violations. In a recent incident, the navy detained 228 Rohingya people, including 33 children, trying to flee the apartheid conditions Rohingya face in Myanmar.

Yet, through ADMM, human rights concerns have been disregarded as ADMM-Plus countries compete for influence through exercises that support Myanmar’s abusive navy.

In 2018, the first China-ASEAN Joint Maritime Exercise was held in Guangdong. The Myanmar Navy joined as an observer of the six-day drill, co-organised with Singapore.

The following April, marking the 70th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, Myanmar sent the Sinphyushin frigate to join the Southeast Asia-China Maritime Exercise in Qingdao. Six Southeast Asian countries participated. The exercise practiced boarding and searching vessels and landing helicopters on ships, skills that supports the military’s use of the navy against the people of Myanmar.

In 2019, the Myanmar Navy’s Kyansittha frigate joined the ASEAN-US Maritime Exercise (AUMX), despite the fact that the navy is under the command of Min Aung Hlaing, who the US had sanctioned. In the exercise, the US and ASEAN members helped build Myanmar naval capabilities in areas that it uses to violate the human rights of Rohingya and other ethnic people. A statement from the US Navy’s 7th Fleet described the exercise: “ASEAN member states and U.S. forces operated together under a combined task force structure, training for realistic scenarios designed to reinforce interoperability in areas such as visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS), maritime domain awareness, division tactics.”

The exercises also provided fodder for the Myanmar military’s propaganda, and undermined efforts to hold the military accountable for their atrocity crimes.

At the end of 2021, the Myanmar Navy joined the first ASEAN-Russia Naval Exercise (ARNEX) hosted by Indonesia. Again, the navy sent the Kyansittha warship.

According to junta-controlled media, ARNEX involved joint tactical manoeuvring, signals training, communications and the interception of “suspicious vessels”. These skills further support Myanmar naval operations that violate human rights and support atrocity crimes.

As current co-chairs of the ADMM-Plus Experts’ Working Group on Maritime Security, Thailand and the US are still supporting the Myanmar Navy.

The last maritime security meeting was held on February 11, 2022, led by a Thai Vice Admiral and the US Department of Defence’s Director of South and Southeast Asia. Commander Kyaw Htin of the Myanmar Navy participated with personnel from ASEAN defence partner countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. Topics discussed include future naval exercises and the strengthening of joint capacity.

The ASEAN Security Community provides opportunities for the Myanmar military to procure arms, and develop its arms industry, which enables the military’s atrocity crimes.

In some cases, ADMM has provided opportunities for the Myanmar military to seek to procure arms.

When Min Aung Hlaing attended ADMM counter terrorism exercises in China in 2019, he also visited the China Electronic Technology Group Corp (CETC), an arms supplier of the Myanmar military, according to reliable sources.

The junta’s joint chair of the counter terrorism defence working group has strengthened its ties to Russia’s Eastern Military District, based in Vladivostok. Vladivostok appears to be an important staging point for Russian arms shipments to the Myanmar military. In December 2021, a cargo ship left the port of Vladivostok for Myanmar, laden with Russian-made BRDM-2M armoured vehicles that were delivered to the Myanmar military.  

In 2019, when Thailand was chair of ASEAN, the Thai Ministry of Defence held an arms expo in conjunction with ADMM-Plus. At the expo, the Myanmar military’s Directorate of Defence Industries had a booth at the expo to sell locally produced arms as a source of income for the Myanmar military. The expo also provided an opportunity for the Myanmar military to access arms suppliers from across the world.

Min Aung Hlaing led the Myanmar delegation to ADMM and the expo with his defence minister, Sein Win, joining the defence ministers of ASEAN members and ADMM-Plus countries, including Australia, India, New Zealand and South Korea.

To promote arms production, ADMM formed the ASEAN Defence Industry Collaboration (ADIC) to increase the arms manufacturing capabilities of member states and to reduce their reliance on arms imports. According to the concept paper, ADIC’s proposed activities include training for the defence sector; partnerships, joint ventures and co-production of arms; joint research and development; and joint promotion.

Reports on ADIC meetings are sparse.  

ADIC activities are facilitated through a consultative group that reports to ADMM through the ASEAN Defence Senior Officials’ Meeting (ADSOM). The terms of reference empower the group to designate information as classified. Before the military’s attempted coup, it is therefore likely that Myanmar’s parliament and civilian government would not have had full access to information regarding ADIC activities.

At an ADIC meeting in 2017, hosted by Malaysia, the country’s deputy prime minister commented, “ASEAN should not be regarded merely as end users, but upgraded to 'friendly collaborators' when it comes to the defence industry”, and argued for ADIC to be a forum for ASEAN members to get a bigger share of the arms industry “pie”.  

During an ADIC meeting in Bangkok in 2019, members agreed to collaborate on research and development for military vehicles. A report on the meeting states that Thailand and Myanmar were also discussing cooperation on computer engineering for the arms industry.

The bloc’s Network of ASEAN Defence and Security Institutions (NADI) is a forum for research & development cooperation in the defence industry, as well as military training and education.

In 2021, seven NADI meetings were held, hosted by Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Cambodia has hosted at least one NADI meeting so far in 2022. All involved the participation of Major General Myint Kyaw Tun from the Myanmar military’s Office of the Chief of Armed Forces Training.

In a November NADI meeting hosted by Indonesia, Myint Kyaw Tun discussed defence research & development for “personnel and equipment innovations”. The meeting’s recommendations included further exchanges and “practical cooperation on Defence R&D” under ADMM-Plus, which, if realised, would involve Myanmar’s main arms suppliers, China, Russia and India.  

There is a high risk that through ADIC, NADI and other ADMM bodies, the Myanmar military is able to access arms, technology and arms industry support, aiding and abetting its atrocity crimes.

Through ADMM, ASEAN has provided the Myanmar military with access to diplomatic, military, technical, financial and intelligence support, as it commits atrocity crimes with total impunity. The Myanmar military’s participation in ADMM helps it access arms and equipment, build its military capabilities, develop its arms industry and wrongly gain international legitimacy.

ASEAN has continued defence cooperation with the Myanmar military as it repeatedly commits atrocity crimes with total impunity. ASEAN is fully aware of the crimes the Myanmar military commits, yet fails to denounce and distance itself, effectively encouraging the military’s criminal conduct.

Instead of upholding international law and democratic values, ASEAN and partner defence ministries and militaries support the Myanmar military under a frightening vision of a Security Community, co-designed by the same Myanmar generals who are responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

ASEAN has the power to prevent the Myanmar military’s continued international law violations. Yet the bloc has instead become an institutional barrier preventing international action to stop the Myanmar military’s atrocities and resolve the Myanmar crisis.

ASEAN provides cover for its members and ADMM-Plus countries to enhance military and business cooperation with the Myanmar military, and avoid taking action to protect the human rights of the Myanmar people and end the military’s impunity.

ASEAN’s practical assistance and support for the Myanmar military likely amounts to the aiding and abetting of the military’s genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Justice For Myanmar calls for the following urgent action:

ASEAN

  1. Exclude the Myanmar military junta from all meetings and activities.
  2. Recognise the National Unity Government as the legitimate government of Myanmar, and work with it to resolve the Myanmar crisis.
  3. Take concrete action to end the Myanmar military’s violence against the Myanmar people.
  4. Create an ASEAN sanctions framework, and encourage ASEAN members to impose an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on the Myanmar military and its business interests.
  5. Cooperate with UN Member States to impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar and to refer the Myanmar situation to the International Criminal Court through the UN Security Council.

ADMM-Plus countries (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the USA):

  1. Call on ASEAN to exclude the Myanmar military junta from all meetings and activities, and end the Myanmar military’s violence against the Myanmar people.
  2. Recognise and support the National Unity Government as the legitimate government of Myanmar, and work with it to resolve the Myanmar crisis.
  3. Urge ASEAN to recognise the National Unity Government and work with it to resolve the Myanmar crisis.  
  4. Boycott ASEAN meetings and activities that include the Myanmar military junta.
  5. Impose an arms embargo and targeted sanctions against the Myanmar military and its business interests.
  6. Cooperate with UN Member States to impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar and to refer the Myanmar situation to the International Criminal Court through the UN Security Council.