Human Rights Watch (HRW) on April 7 slammed a meeting between Australia's ambassador to Myanmar and the military junta chief, saying it was "lending credibility" to a regime accused of war crimes.
Since a military-led coup ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's administration last year, Myanmar has been increasingly isolated internationally — with foreign governments urging an end to deadly crackdowns on mass democracy protests.
Australia's outgoing ambassador Andrea Faulkner met with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw on Wednesday, with state-owned media outlet Global New Light of Myanmar reporting the pair discussed "enhancement of cooperation in various sectors".
The ambassador was accompanied by Australia's defence attache to Myanmar, Colonel Tony Egan, the report said. Katrina Cooper from Australia's Foreign Affairs Department said the ambassador had used the meeting to reiterate calls for Myanmar to cease violence and release detainees.
"The Australian government does not consider that the outgoing meeting legitimises the current regime," Ms. Cooper told a Senate committee in Canberra. But HRW said the meeting and subsequent coverage in state media did just that.
"This is meeting is not only deeply unacceptable, but it undercuts efforts by other governments to isolate the military commander implicated in serious abuses," HRW's Myanmar researcher Manny Maung said.
"By taking photo ops and accepting gifts, Australia only serves to lend credibility to a military junta that is accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against its own population." Ms. Maung urged Australia to "align with its traditional allies" by avoiding further high-level meetings with the junta and immediately imposing sanctions.
Australian officials outlined seven other meetings and phone calls with the junta since the coup, but denied any sectors were engaging with the regime. Canberra has repeatedly called for the release of Australian economist Sean Turnell, who was working as an adviser to Suu Kyi when he was detained shortly after the coup.
He has been charged with violating Myanmar's official secrets law and faces a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison if found guilty. Myanmar has been in chaos since a putsch in February 2021, with more than 1,700 people killed in crackdowns on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.