Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has urged his successor, António Guterres, to engage directly with Myanmar’s army to prevent violence from escalating following the coup that overthrew the democratically elected government on 1st February. Myanmar’s armed forces, also known as the Tatmadaw, have used brutal means to quell pro-democracy protests, resulting in immense bloodshed nationwide. Ban has also called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders to take swift and strong action against the junta, and resist dismissing the unrest as an internal matter.
“Given the gravity and urgency of the situation, I believe the Secretary-General himself should use his good offices to engage directly with the Myanmar military, to prevent an escalation of violence,” Ban said in a meeting with the U.N. Security Council on 19th April.
Ban’s exhortation comes in light of mounting violence in Myanmar, where battlefield weapons are being used against peaceful anti-coup protestors. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) reports that the deadly crackdown has resulted in at least 751 deaths and over 3,300 detained civilians since the junta seized power. These numbers continue to rise as the lethal clampdown remains relentless.
In the same meeting, Guterres’ remarks on Myanmar emphasized the need for a “robust international response grounded on a unified regional effort”. He appealed to “regional actors to leverage their influence to prevent further deterioration and, ultimately, find a peaceful way out of this catastrophe.”
Guterres added that his special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, “stands ready to resume dialogue with the military and the other actors and to contribute to a return of Myanmar to the democratic path, and to peace and stability.”
The Associated Press reports that Schraner Burgener has been in contact with the Tatmadaw, though her efforts to visit Myanmar have been repeatedly blocked. She landed in Bangkok on 9th April to begin a series of meetings with regional officials on the situation in Myanmar. Tweeting upon arrival, she expressed regret at the Tatmadaw’s refusal to meet. “I am ready for dialogue,” she stated, adding: “Violence never leads to peaceful sustainable solutions.”
Schraner Burgener also travelled to Jakarta, where an emergency summit of ASEAN leaders was held on 24th April to address the crisis in Myanmar. Although she did not attend the summit itself, she held “sideline” meetings with government officials, according to Reuters.
ASEAN leaders were internationally criticized for inviting the coup leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, to the summit. Nevertheless, they called for an “immediate cessation” of the violence in Myanmar. According to NPR, their official statement included a peaceful solution via “constructive dialogue” mediated by an ASEAN-appointed special envoy. Though his attendance marked his first trip outside of Myanmar since the coup, the general did not make a public statement.
During the council meeting, Ban stressed that “the principle of non-interference” was a poor excuse for “inaction in the face of serious human rights abuses,” referring to ASEAN’s traditionally hands-off approach in the domestic affairs of its 10 member nations. He urged leaders at the summit to take “immediate and concerted actions” to lead a united regional effort in curbing the human rights violations perpetrated by the Tatmadaw.
However, Ban implored the U.N. to likewise move “beyond statements to collective action” and to use the “range of tools at the Council’s disposal” to protect civilians. Weeks earlier, the council issued a presidential statement that was toned down after a handful of member states objected to certain provisions, most notably China and Russia. The initial draft included explicit condemnation of the coup and threats of “possible measures under the U.N. Charter” – namely, sanctions – “should the situation deteriorate further.” Instead, the presidential statement, a step below a resolution, condemned the violence against protestors, called for restraint by military forces in Myanmar, and release the detained civilian government including Aung San Suu Kyi.
The common thread between Ban’s and Guterres’ remarks was an emphasis on the role of ASEAN leaders to lead concerted efforts and conversations. However, Ban’s statements reinforce the need for U.N. intervention beyond their support of ASEAN, which Guterres’ can facilitate through direct engagement with the Tatmadaw. In addition, many have called for a global arms embargo, targeted U.N. sanctions, and judicial action at the International Criminal Court. The E.U., U.S., and U.K. have already placed sanctions on Myanmar, yet the U.N. lags behind in terms of assertive action.
When the Security Council released its presidential statement on 10th March, less than 100 civilian fatalities had been reported. At the time of this article’s writing, that number has risen sevenfold. There is no sign that the Tatmadaw’s violent suppression of democracy will wane any time soon. The situation has indeed deteriorated further and will continue to do so without more rigorous and punitive measures from both intergovernmental and regional bodies alike.