A UK-based NGO and solicitors representing Myanmar’s former ambassador to the UK want to use the junta’s efforts to evict him from his London residence as a test case to establish the illegitimacy of the junta in the English courts.
Kyaw Zwar Minn became an international cause celebre last month when he was locked out of his embassy by his deputy, Chit Win, after breaking ranks with the military and calling for the release of Myanmar’s deposed civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
The embassy is now run by Chit Win in the role of chargé d’affaires, as the UK will not recognise him as ambassador. Chit Win is trying to compel Kyaw Zwar Minn to leave the ambassador’s official residence in Hampstead, north London.
Kyaw Zwar Minn is being supported by the Myanmar Accountability Project and the British international criminal law firm Peters & Peters. They plan to challenge the eviction attempt and persuade an English court to rule that the junta that took over in February is illegitimate and has no standing.
Since its coup, the army has launched a harsh crackdown on pro-democracy protests and has been accused of hundreds of killings as well as torture and illegal detentions.
Peters & Peters has sent a legal letter to Chit Win warning him that any attempt to evict Kyaw Zwar Minn would be unlawful and that “any attempt to secure access to any part of the property will be reported immediately to the police”.
The letter continues: “You purport to represent the Union of Myanmar and to write on behalf of the ministry of foreign affairs. However, our client does not and will not recognise those responsible for the internationally condemned military coup in Myanmar as representing the legitimate government of Myanmar.
“Consequently, you do not have authority to ask His Excellency Kyaw Z Minn to leave the ambassador’s residence or to return the property to which your letter refers, which belong to the Republic of Myanmar.
“His Excellency will therefore not be vacating the ambassadorial residence … and will resist any possession or other legal proceedings to seek to secure the property or access to it in any way.”
Kyaw Zwar Minn said in an interview with the Guardian that he had been warned by the UK Foreign Office that police would be unable to do anything if embassy staff “invaded our residence”. Kyaw Zwar Minn said he was still waiting for British officials to set out what support they would give him to stay in London.
While diplomatic representation and properties used by diplomatic missions usually fall under the auspices of the Vienna convention, the Myanmar Accountability Project wants to use the case of the official residence to persuade a court to rule that the coup was illegal.
The Foreign Office had been hoping for a brokered solution to the standoff between the embassy and Kyaw Zwar Minn. The move to involve the courts will keep the issue in the spotlight.
Chris Gunness, the director of the Myanmar Accountability Project, a London-based NGO promoting justice and accountability in Myanmar, said: “The junta has used naked military force to subvert democracy, but MAP will use all legal means to expose the illegality of the coup and fight for the restoration of democratic rule and human rights in Myanmar.
“Eight hundred people have been killed in the last three months, thousands detained and tortured by the very military regime now attempting an illegal eviction from property in London.
“This is a case that will have consequences for Myanmar embassies around the world. Many governments, including the UK, have condemned the coup and imposed sanctions against the generals and the companies they run. It is deeply offensive to those risking their lives on the streets to oppose military rule to suggest that the junta represents Myanmar and its people.”