The World of International Organizations

Human Rights Council ‘deplores’ Myanmar coup

Protesters face down the military coup in Myanmar (AN/Mizzima)
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Myanmar’s military coup drew widespread criticism from the U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday in a resolution that demands the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and restoration of civilian rule.

The Geneva-based council of 47 member nations, which adopted the resolution by consensus, urged Myanmar’s military to release Suu Kyi and other leaders detained in the coup at the start of this month. Under pressure from Myanmar’s powerful neighbor, China, and Russia, however, the council removed calls for more military restraint and for more aid to be provided for human rights investigations by Tom Andrews, the independent U.N. special rapporteur on Myanmar.

The resolution came from a special session requested by Britain and the European Union to discuss rights abuses and violations in Myanmar. The world’s top human rights body cannot impose binding sanctions but can exert pressure by focusing attention on grave situations. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric called the resolution an important step that shows the international community wants democracy respected in Myanmar and believes  “disproportionate use of force” is unacceptable.

Britain and the E.U. had proposed a resolution “strongly deploring” the coup and urging an end to violence against peaceful protesters. Instead, the weakened version that won approval says the council “deplores the removal of the government  elected by the people of Myanmar” and calls for the elected government to be restored.

It also “calls urgently for the immediate and unconditional release of all persons arbitrarily detained,” including Nobel laureate Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, and “the lifting of the state of emergency.” Over the past week, tens of thousands have turned out across Myanmar for anti-coup rallies.

Nada al-Nashif, deputy head of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, said the military’s seizure of power and its detention of democratically elected leaders on political motivated charges were “a profound setback for the country after a decade of hard-won gains in its democratic transition.”

OHCHR also is tracking “more than 350 political and state officials, activists and civil society members, including journalists, monks and students, who have been taken into custody,” al-Nashif said. “Several face criminal charges on dubious grounds. Most have received no form of due process and have not been permitted legal representation, family visitations or communication. Some remain missing, with no information as to their whereabouts or well-being.”

‘Not alone’ and ‘not forgotten’

Last week, the most powerful arm of the United Nations, the 15-nation Security Council in New York, expressed “deep concern” but stopped short of condemning Myanmar’s military coup while calling for the immediate release of Suu Kyi, the nation’s de facto civilian leader, and Win Myint. Suu Kyi and other leaders of her National League for Democracy party were detained in early morning raids just as parliament was set to reconvene.

The military-run Myawaddy TV said Senior General Min Aung Hlaing will run the nation for a year due to “election fraud” in November elections that gave Suu Kyi’s party most of parliament’s contested seats. The military said Suu Kyi failed to fully investigate fraud claims, but an election commission found no evidence of fraud.

Starting in 1962, Myanmar endured five decades of military-led isolation. But after a 2010 general election and Suu Kyi’s election to parliament in 2012, Myanmar opened up to outside economic development and restored her party to power in 2015.

Myanmar’s Geneva-based U.N. Ambassador U Myint Thu told the council the intervention by Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, was made necessary because of his nation’s commitment to democracy. He said the year-long “state of emergency” means that all legislative, executive and judicial powers have been transferred to Min Aung Hlaing, who also chairs a new 16-member adminstrative council for the nation made up of eight senior military officials and eight civilians.

“In light of the post-election irregularities and the following complex situation in the country, Tatmadaw was compelled to take the state responsibilities in accordance with the state constitution,” Thu told the council, while assuring diplomats that Myanmar would honor its commitments to international organizations and treaties.

“We do not want to stall our nascent democratic transition in the country,” he added. “Myanmar will continue to engage with the United Nations towards lasting peace and stability and sustained development to the benefit of the people in the country.”

That is not how most other diplomats and human rights experts such as Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur, or human rights investigator, on Myanmar, viewed the military’s actions. “The very act of convening this session makes an important statement of the gravity with which this council views what can aptly be described as an outrageous and illegal act — a coup d’état of a duly elected government and its duly elected leaders,” said Andrews, a former U.S. congressman from Maine.

“But it is equally important that the people of Myanmar understand that they are not alone and they are not forgotten,” he told the council. “This body, and the international community, must and will stand with them at a moment of great peril and need.”

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