UN Rights Envoy Calls for Halt to Attacks on Myanmar Town

Amidst the yearlong military coup and ongoing violence in Myanmar, a United Nations human rights investigator called for an end to attacks on the northern town of Loikaw. The capital of Kayah State faces a blockade on locals attempting to flee the area currently targeted by the Tatmadaw military. The special envoy called for international support to ensure the protection of civilians,  the free movement towards safety, and the accessibility of humanitarian aid. Regional violence has exacerbated the refugee crisis and displaced civilians caught in the crossfire. With limited access to conflict-ridden areas, due to fighting between the government and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), humanitarian actors are restricted from reaching at-risk populations to provide aid.

The military junta has not responded to the calls to cease the blockade. Following the UN Special Envoy on New Year’s, Noeleen Heyzer expressed that “the people of Myanmar have already suffered tremendously, and the socio-economic and humanitarian situation has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.” In response to the military coup, the grievous human rights violations, and democratic backsliding, the U.S, the U.K, and the European Union have imposed sanctions on the military leaders involved. The UN envoy advocated for a coordinated strategy towards enabling inclusive dialogue with all involved parties: the Tatmadaw, the elected National League for Democracy (NLD), the National Unity Government (NUG), the State Administration Council (SAC), and the various EAOs and representatives from the Civil Disobedience Movement.

According to Reuters, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, encouraged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to continue excluding Myanmar’s junta from its meeting until it cooperates on the agreed Five Points of Consensus for the cessation of violence, peace talks mediated by ASEAN, and accessible humanitarian aid. Despite most international institutions and governments denouncing the violence, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the coup. China’s stance opposes international intervention but still leaves room for working with the military regime. Ultimately, the nation’s political divides and human rights violations have made evident the need for coordinated peace talks to begin reconstruction and ensure accountability.

While the condemnation of blockades and military attacks is an important step, the need for mediated peace talks, the revision of the Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008), and unrestricted access to humanitarian aid are vital to the stability of the country. Myanmar’s constitution includes provisions that ensure the military’s dominance and influence in parliament. These conditions enabled the military to reclaim power and perpetuate discrimination against Rohingya Muslims.

With a history of repressive military rule, poverty, and civil war with ethnic minority groups, Myanmar’s domestic affairs have been shaped by the junta. With a transition to civilian leadership in 2011, and the election of the NLD in 2015, the country had a brief period of democratic development before the military coup regressed to forceful repression of civil protest, violence against ethnic minorities, and the suppression of freedom of expression and assembly in February 2021. Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has maintained the military power of the Tatmadaw throughout democratization. The false arrest of Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD officials sparked the start of ongoing protests and the ensuing military crackdown. Based on the statistics provided by the Association for Assistance of Political Prisoners rights group, more than 1,400 people have been killed and more than 11,000 protestors have been arrested since last February. The genocidal ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine has been an ongoing conflict predating the recent coup. A peaceful resolution to the conflict would require the recognition of Rohingya citizenship, the restoration of the destroyed communities, and independent investigations into the war crimes committed against these communities.

The U.S. Department of Treasury’s stance sets an example for other global organizations. Increasing sanctions on Myanmar’s military would promote accountability by targeting those responsible for the coup and undermining their sources of revenue. Furthermore, coordinating a ceasefire between all parties and delivering humanitarian assistance to at-risk communities remains a top priority for establishing an effective and holistic peace. Myanmar has a multi-ethnic population and majority-minority relations reflect the challenges of a fair distribution of power. Any solutions to the current crisis must address the potential for a transition from military rule to civilian rule that accurately represents the diversity of the country.