Australia’s National Union of Students (NUS) has called protests after revelations published yesterday by the Guardian that Australia’s Defence Department will continue to train the Tatmadaw—Myanmar's official armed forces. In recent months, the forces have faced accusations of violently targeting the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. According to the United Nations, the ongoing massacres, rapes, and burnings are a "textbook case of ethnic cleansing."
“Not only does the Australian government deny Rohingya refugees the right to settle in Australia, it directly contributes to the genocide of Rohingya people by training the Myanmar armed forces,” NUS ethnocultural officer, Harsha Kadkol, told VICE. "Public money is being spent on genocide, racism, and handouts to weapons manufacturers instead of funding our education and welfare. Students will be fighting against these warped priorities with a national day of action on Wednesday, March 21."
“It's outrageous that the Liberals are sinking money into a genocidal military," NUS education officer Con Karavias told VICE. "This comes on top of billions in handouts to arms manufacturers, all at the expense of higher education, which is experiencing the biggest funding cut in generations… We want money for education, not for war."
A freedom of information request conducted by The Guardian divulged that Australia will be spending $400,000 on training the Tatmadaw, an $126,000 increase on last year’s budget. This will cover English lessons, events, and training courses, as well as funding for Myanmar's participation in the Pirap Jabiru multilateral military exercises in the region that Australia supervises with Thailand.
The spending bump comes as the world condemn's the Tatmadaw actions against the Rohingya. Addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2017, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, denounced Burma’s “brutal security operation. More recently, Yanghee Lee, the UN special envoy on human rights believes the state of affairs bears “the hallmarks of a genocide” that is “amounting to crimes against humanity.”
Some 688,000 Rohingya refugees, many of them children, have fled from Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh since August 2017. Their makeshift camps are at risk from flooding and landslides when the cyclone and monsoon season begins in a few weeks time.
The United Kingdom and the US have suspended military cooperation with Myanmar in protest of the ongoing violence against the Rohingya. However, Australia has no plans for a ban.
Defense department official Scott Dewar justified the federal government's policy because it was helping to build capacity and professionalism whilst admitting the situation would continue to be monitored in consultation with the foreign affairs department as "the government is deeply concerned by the violence."
Aung San Suu Kyi will visit Sydney on March 17–18 for the Asean-Australia Special Summit, where it is expected her government's treatment of the Rohingya people will be discussed with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Follow Liam on Twitter