Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas during the German Bundestag debate on Myanmar

04.03.2021 - Speech

Anyone who wants to know what is happening in Myanmar at the moment only needs to look at social media. The images you see there are truly shocking: sobbing women begging for help against military brutality. Fighter jets circling over peaceful demonstrators, and people bleeding to death in broad daylight after being shot for demonstrating for democracy. Just yesterday, dozens of people, dozens of demonstrators, were killed.

Only last November, these people were full of hope when they went to vote. In the midst of the pandemic, electorate turnout was 72 percent in Myanmar. The vast majority of voters expressed their trust once again in their de facto prime minister, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the military party suffered a resounding defeat. International election observers confirmed that the elections were fundamentally free and fair. And so the way was actually paved for continuing a doubtlessly difficult process of democratisation, which Germany and the European Union had done their utmost to support.

But then came 1 February and the military’s attempt to turn back time once again. Not only in Germany, but also in many parts of the world, this gives rise to the question: what can we do now? We see three things as crucial.

Firstly, what we are doing here today in the German Bundestag, namely spelling out that we do not, and will never, accept a coup.

It thus sent an important message when the President of the German Bundestag assured the elected members of parliament in Myanmar at the start of the week of our entire chamber’s solidarity and support.

The immediate release of all political prisoners and a return to the democratically legitimised institutions must be our joint demand.

At our initiative, the European Union and the G7 have issued clear statements in this spirit. Furthermore, the United Nations Security Council, and that included Russia and China, has also expressed its support for our key demands. When it comes to persuading the military to back down, this international unity, which one no longer finds in so many crisis dossiers these days, is our greatest asset here in particular. But here, too, words alone will not suffice when at the same time shots are being fired at innocent civilians in Yangon and other cities.

That brings me to my second point, namely this was why we cleared the way in the EU Foreign Affairs Council in February for imposing targeted sanctions, which we can now adopt without delay. We are deliberately targeting the military’s decision-makers here. Further options, such as listing its enterprises, are already on the table and can be taken in the near future. However, one thing must be particularly important to us all here, namely that none of these measures adversely affect the population, which is already suffering under the current situation.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my third point. From the start, we have been liaising very closely with our international partners, and in particular with our regional partners, to de-escalate the situation in Myanmar using diplomatic means.

Our aim here ‒ and others share this goal ‒ is to create space for a necessary dialogue that has not been available so far. That is why our priority is to achieve a united stance with the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia.

But above all, we our counting on ASEAN, as the key to dialogue and to lasting solutions lies in the region. We are currently working closely with Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, which currently holds the chairmanship of ASEAN, and others to agree further courses of action. An important step was taken on Tuesday when the ASEAN Foreign Ministers discussed Myanmar at a meeting also attended by representatives of the country’s military.

Anyone who is even somewhat familiar with the region will know that none of this was a matter of course given the imperative of non-interference, a fundamental principle of ASEAN. But our ASEAN partners are also well aware that the coup in Myanmar is a step backwards for ASEAN as a whole. Moreover, the coup poses a genuine threat to stability and prosperity in a region more at the heart of US-Chinese grappling for influence than almost any other. This also explains why countries such as Singapore and Indonesia have addressed the Myanmar military in no uncertain terms. That, too, is anything but a matter of course in this region.

We also need to make use of the key to diplomacy held in particular by UN Special Envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who has had access to all sides since the Rohingya crisis. That is why we expressly support her engagement. We also call for permission to hold talks in Myanmar, including a face-to-face meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, to finally be granted.

Esteemed colleagues, democratically elected politicians can be placed under house arrest, but that does not make a military dictatorship legitimate.

Facebook can be switched off, but that does not silence demonstrators’ voices. They simply look for other platforms, as young people are now doing in Myanmar with great courage and creativity. Protestors can be locked up, but you can never imprison an entire population.

The military in Myanmar may be trying to turn back the wheel of history, but the people in Myanmar do not want a comeback by the defeated military, as they have already experienced what it is to live in peace and democracy. Several years ago, Aung San Suu Kyi wrote that “the only real prison is fear.” People in Myanmar left that prison a long time ago, and they should know that they can count on our support.

Thank you very much.


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