The United Nations Security Council expressed “deep concern” but stopped short of condemning Myanmar’s military coup on Thursday while calling for the immediate release of the nation’s de facto civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and President Win Myint.
A statement by the 15-nation council, the world body’s most powerful arm, refrained from using the word “coup,” instead referring to the situation as “the declaration of the state of emergency imposed in Myanmar by the military.” That reflected mainly the views of Myanmar’s powerful neighbor, China, and Russia, two of the council’s five veto-wielding permanent members.
The council also urged the “immediate release of all those detained” by the military, which rounded up leaders of the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Suu Kyi on Monday and all but ended the Southeast Asian nation’s efforts to distance itself from decades of military rule.
“The members of the Security Council emphasized the need for the continued support of the democratic transition in Myanmar,” the council’s press statement said. “They stressed the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. They encouraged the pursuance of dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.”
The council said it also worried about “restrictions on civil society, journalists and media workers” and demanded safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to “all people in need,” including through the re-establishment of U.N. relief flights. The council, whose other permanent members are Britain, France and the United States, had been blocked by China from referring to the Myanmar military’s takeover as a coup.
On Wednesday, foreign ministers of the Group of Seven rich democracies issued a joint statement saying it was “united in condemning the coup in Myanmar.” The G-7, which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, said it was “deeply concerned by the detention of political leaders and civil society activists” including Suu Kyi and the president and the targeting of news media.
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 announced that Senior General Min Aung Hlaing will run the country for one year due to “election fraud” in November elections that gave Suu Kyi’s party most of parliament’s contested seats.
“We call upon the military to immediately end the state of emergency, restore power to the democratically elected government, to release all those unjustly detained and to respect human rights and the rule of law,” the G-7 said in a statement.
“The November election results must be respected and parliament should be convened at the earliest opportunity,” it said. “The military’s restrictions on information flows are deeply concerning. Civilians, including civil society and the media, must not be subject to reprisals in any form. We also call for unrestricted humanitarian access to support the most vulnerable.”
The UK condemns the military coup & the detention of democratically elected members of the civilian government, including the State Counsellor & the President, as well as civil society figures.
— UK at the UN 🇬🇧 (@UKUN_NewYork) February 2, 2021
A ‘return to normalcy’
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward, whose nation holds the council’s revolving presidency for February, read the council statement aloud to reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. Separately, she released a more strongly worded statement by her nation condemning the coup.
Starting in 1962, Myanmar endured five decades of military-led isolation. After Suu Kyi became leader of its pro-democracy movement, she was put under house arrest for 15 of the following 22 years of military rule. But after a 2010 general election and her election to parliament in 2012, the United States and other Western governments eased up on economic restrictions and Myanmar restored her party to power in 2015.
Her stature as a pro-democracy icon diminished on the international stage, however, with her failure to condemn the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing of minority Rohingya Muslims that fled by the hundreds of thousands into neighboring Bangladesh in 2018. A U.N. human rights investigator urged the world body last year to “step up its efforts” to protect the Rohingyas from alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Monday, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations recommended the restoration of “political stability” in Myanmar, one of its 10 members. ASEAN’s members — which also include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — noted its charter urges adherance to principles of democracy, rule of law, good governance, human rights and basic freedoms.
“We encourage the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar,” its brief statement said.