In what the BBC has described as a “rare” move the United Nations (UN) has condemned the recent military coup in Myanmar and called for an arms embargo against the country. Although the resolution adopted by the General Assembly on June 18th is not legally binding, it carries significant political weight and represents the international communities’ firm opposition to the military coup. However, the 193 Member States of the UN did not vote unanimously in favour of the resolution, despite hopes that this would be the case. 119 states voted in favour, 36 abstained, and one voted against (Belarus). The abstaining countries included Russia and China, two of the Myanmar army’s largest arms suppliers. In the resolution, the UN “condemns the military’s use of lethal force and violence” and “calls on all member states to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar.”
UN General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said in a statement before the vote was held, “from the collapse of civilian rule to arbitrary arrests, and indiscriminate attacks against civilians by the military, Myanmar is not a safe place for the people whom we have pledged to serve. As a result of the deteriorating political situation, humanitarian needs are growing.” Christine Schraner Burgener, the UN Special Envoy for Myanmar described her briefing with the Security Council: “I asked the Security Council for timely support and action; that it’s really paramount. We have an alarming situation on the ground for all civilian people because the health system collapsed completely, and food security is also in danger. I urged the Council to speak in unity and especially against violence, and also that the political prisoners will be released as quickly as possible.”
The coup that took place on the 1st of February earlier this year – saw the military junta seize power after they alleged voter fraud in the November 2019 general elections. The BBC reports that independent election monitors have not found evidence for this and have described the elections as largely free and fair. UN figures report that security forces have killed an estimated 600 people during protests and demonstrations triggered by the coup. 6,000 have been arrested and many political leaders have been detained, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi who has been under house arrest since February, with few public appearances.
Although the resolution is not legally binding, it will hopefully lead to positive changes that will pave the way to restoring democracy in Myanmar. Richard Gowan, UN Director of the International Crisis Group said that “the junta will shrug this resolution off, but it will make it harder for them to try to normalize their relations with the wider world, and present the coup as a fait accompli. The general assembly has effectively warned the generals that if they keep hold of power, they are resigning themselves to pariah status indefinitely…[and] has sent a clear message that UN members are not willing to sweep the coup under the rug.”
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