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Letter from Human Rights Watch to Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena

March 25, 2021

Mr. Dinesh Gunawardena
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Republic Building
Sir Baron Jayathilake Mawatha
Colombo 01
Sri Lanka

re: Myanmar’s participation in BIMSTEC

Dear Foreign Minister Gunawardena, 

We write to urge the Sri Lankan government to immediately withdraw the invitation to Wunna Maung Lwin, the representative of Myanmar’s military junta, to participate in the upcoming virtual meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), due to be held on April 1, 2021. By including Wunna Maung Lwin in the meeting, the Sri Lankan government is lending unwarranted legitimacy to the junta’s State Administration Council (SAC) instead of Myanmar’s democratically elected government, which was deposed in a military coup on February 1, 2021.

As you are aware, in a national election held on November 8, 2020, the people of Myanmar overwhelmingly voted for members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, to govern the country. The NLD secured 83 percent of the seats being contested. While Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, has claimed that the November 2020 election was marred by massive fraud, no credible evidence has been produced to substantiate those claims. Both domestic and international election monitoring organizations have rejected the Tatmadaw’s claims and found the elections credible. 

Rather than accepting the electoral defeat of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the political party closely linked to the Myanmar military, the generals acted to deprive the people of Myanmar their right to vote for their government, a right enshrined in international law. Beginning on February 1, the day that the new parliament was due to begin sitting, the military junta arbitrarily arrested and detained President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, along with scores of other NLD ministers, members of parliament, and regional administrators. In recent weeks, the state security forces have arbitrarily arrested numerous local NLD officials, at least two of whom have been tortured to death in detention. 

Ongoing nationwide protests organized by the national Civil Disobedience Movement have demonstrated the widespread opposition to military rule.  The junta’s response to the largely peaceful protests has been increasingly brutal.  Security forces have unnecessarily used rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons, and live ammunition against peaceful protesters, engaged in extrajudicial executions, and brutally beaten many of those they have detained.  As of March 22, the Myanmar security forces have killed more than 250 people, and arbitrarily detained more than 2,600 people.

The SAC, whose representative you have invited to attend BIMSTEC, has also ordered the shutdown of mobile data and public Wi-Fi, and has placed areas of the country under martial law.  In the areas where martial law is imposed, protesters, other opponents of military rule, and journalists will face trials in closed military courts under unfair trial procedures, with no right to appeal.  According to a SAC order, those convicted by military courts may be sentenced to death, hard labor for unlimited periods of time, or the most severe sentence authorized under existing law.

In response to criticism of the invitation to Wunna Maung Lwin, Adm. (Ret.) Jayanath Colombage, Sri Lanka’s Secretary to the Foreign Ministry, reportedly told the media that “unless BIMSTEC expels Myanmar, Sri Lanka has no mandate to exclude them.”  However, Sri Lanka can choose whom it treats as the legitimate representative of the country.  By accepting the junta’s representative, the Sri Lankan government is telling the people of Myanmar that it sides with the generals who are responsible for the shooting of protesters in the streets, rather than the representatives of the government Myanmar’s people voted for in November 2020. 


We respectfully urge you to withdraw the invitation to Wunna Maung Lwin.

Sincerely,

Brad Adams
Asia Director

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