The U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, urged the South Korean government to impose targeted sanctions on the Myanmar junta. South Korea, a strong regional power with a vibrant economy, can play a vitally important role to help reverse the international community's failure to address the crisis in Myanmar, he told a news conference Monday in Seoul.
"Korea should forcefully discredit any claims that the junta's planned elections are legitimate, impose economic sanctions on targets associated with the junta, and expand its humane treatment of those Myanmar nationals residing in Korea while encouraging Myanmar's neighbors to do the same," Andrews said. "Strong, strategic, and coordinated action in support of the people of Myanmar including through cutting off the junta's access to revenue and weapons can make a critical difference."
During his official six-day visit (from November 16 to 21) to South Korea, he met with Korean officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Trade Industry and Energy and also engaged with CEOs of major Korean businesses with operations in Myanmar. According to his statement, delivered at the end of his visit, he impressed upon the Korean investors the importance of ensuring their operations do not benefit the junta.
There was no immediate response from the South Korea government to Andrews' statement urging them to impose sanctions on the Myanmar junta.
In October, the Korean government did express its deep concern that the October 23 airstrikes by Myanmar's military on Kachin State in northeastern Myanmar had caused civilian casualties.
Because of the U.S. and EU targeted sanctions on the Myanmar junta, it's hard for Korean investors to continue to do business there because of restrictions on financial transactions, Yan Naing Htun, special representative of the Korean office of the Myanmar exiled government (NUG), told VOA. For example, international businesses that handle payments in euros and U.S. dollars to the Myanmar companies on the sanction list face the prospect of fines.
Global banks have paid out billions in fines for violating sanctions against other countries, a strong incentive for compliance.
But imposing targeted sanctions on the Myanmar junta by the South Korean government won't happen immediately, Yan said.
"It won't be easy for South Korea," he said, adding that a lawmaker is drafting an act outlawing doing business in Myanmar, but it would take some time to approve. "Therefore, it won't immediately happen to put sanctions on the Myanmar junta by the South Korean government."
He also said that Myanmar communities have hopes that the U.S. government, as a strong ally of South Korea, can effectively press President Yoon Suk Yeol's government to work more for Myanmar.
During his trip, Andrews met with the National Unity Government's (NUG) representative to South Korea and Myanmar communities including Karen, Chin, Kachin, Mon and Rakhine ethnic groups living in South Korea.
Yan told VOA that he highlighted some points at the NUG meeting with Andrews on Monday, such as; the lack of engagement by the current South Korean government with the Myanmar exile government, and its lack of communication with the Myanmar community in general.
In his statement, Andrews urged President Yoon to issue a moratorium on forced returns of Myanmar nationals back to Myanmar.
"The ROK can lead by example to prevent Myanmar nationals from being forcibly returned to Myanmar from other countries," Andrews said.
The Special Rapporteur also noted South Korea's special ability to have a positive impact on the situation in Myanmar.
"Not only is the ROK a strong regional power with a vibrant economy and a member of ASEAN+3, but as I learned in my travels here, the people of ROK can identify deeply with a people who are under siege and yet are also defiant and committed to undoing the shackles of a military dictatorship."
South Korea has also called for Myanmar people's freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and urged the military junta to refrain from excessive and unnecessary violence against the protesters.
During this trip, his first to South Korea, Andrews met Korean NGOs doing advocacy on human rights in Myanmar and traveled to the city of Gwangju, where he visited memorial sites of the May 18 Revolution and met with members of the Gwangju Myanmar solidarity movement.