UN Security Council takes no action on coup in Myanmar

Supporters on a car wave national and military flags Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Yangon, Myanmar. Hundreds of members of Myanmar's Parliament remained confined inside their government housing in the country's capital on Tuesday, a day after the military staged a coup and detained senior politicians including Nobel laureate and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

The U.N. envoy for Myanmar urged an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday to ensure that “democracy is expeditiously restored” to the Southeast Asian nation, but the United Nations’ most powerful body took no immediate action.

Christine Schraner Burgener, the Myanmar ambassador who is currently in Europe, strongly condemned the military’s takeover of the government and said the council must “collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar” and ensure the country “doesn’t fall back into isolation.”

Diplomats said restoring democracy was the key element of a draft statement prepared for the council to release to the media after the closed-door meeting, along with a condemnation of the military’s action and call for the immediate release of all those detained.

But the statement was not issued because it requires support from all 15 council members and the U.N. missions for China and Russia said they needed to send it to their capitals for review, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed. China has close ties to Myanmar.

Schraner Burgener told the council that the Myanmar military’s declaration of a state of emergency and detention of top leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi and dozens of lawmakers and civilian officials just as the new parliamentary session was about to open Monday “was surprising and shocking.”

The military said the seizure of power was necessary because the government had not acted on the military’s unsubstantiated claims of fraud in November’s election in which Suu Kyi’s party won a majority of seats.

Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Barbara Woodward, the current council president, told reporters after the meeting that ambassadors echoed widespread international concerns about the military’s action at the virtual session.

“And we welcome the role of regional partners … to resolve this crisis,” including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, she said.

Brunei, which chairs the 10-nation regional ASEAN group, including Myanmar, issued a statement Monday noting the bloc’s principles include “the adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The statement encouraged “the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.”

But it made no mention of any action by ASEAN to take the lead in returning Myanmar to a democratic path.

At the United Nations, Woodward said: “Discussions will continue among council colleagues on next steps. I certainly hope that we will be able to speak with one voice.”

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, called Myanmar “a friendly neighbor” Tuesday and expressed hope that all parties “will properly handle their differences under the constitutional and legal framework and maintain political and social stability.”

“Whatever actions taken by the international community shall contribute to Myanmar’s political and social stability, promote its peace and reconciliation, and avoid escalating the conflict and complicating the situation,” Wang said in Beijing.

Myanmar has been a very difficult issue for the Security Council to take any action, but not impossible.

In November 2017, the council adopted a presidential statement condemning widespread violence in northern Rakhine State and expressing grave concern at reported human rights violations by Myanmar’s security forces against minority Rohingya Muslims. It called on the government to ensure “no further excessive use of military force,” which led 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

Before Tuesday’s council meeting, the U.N.’s director for the group Human Rights Watch, Louis Charbonneau, said the council’s “abysmal failure to address Myanmar’s past appalling human rights abuses assured the military they could do as they please without serious consequences.”

He called on the council to demand the immediate release of all detained political leaders and activists and the restoration of civilian democratic rule. He said sanctions should be imposed “on those military leaders responsible.”

Amnesty International’s deputy director of advocacy, Sherine Tadros, urged the council to freeze the assets of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, now in charge of the government, and other military leaders responsible for crimes against ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya.

“The Security Council must also impose a comprehensive global arms embargo on Myanmar, and crucially, refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court,” she said.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday called the Myanmar military’s action a coup, setting the stage for sanctions and other measures targeting what State Department officials said was “the very small circle of military generals” responsible.

While the U.S. and other Western nations may impose sanctions on Myanmar, Security Council approval of targeted measures is highly unlikely. That would take a resolution, which China would likely veto.

Getting approval for a press statement remains a possibility, but not a certainty.

Sven Jürgenson, the U.N. ambassador for council member Estonia, supported the proposed statement, strongly condemning the coup and urging Myanmar’s military to respect the 2008 constitution, allow Parliament to do its work, and “recommit to the peace process.”


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