UN Security Council fails to condemn Myanmar coup

Diplomats say discussions will continue with China and Russia asking for ‘more time’.

The UN Security Council was unable to agree a statement condemning the coup in Myanmar at a special meeting on Tuesday [Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA/Getty Images]

The UN Security Council has failed to agree on a joint statement condemning Monday’s coup in Myanmar, after a two hour long emergency meeting failed to secure the support of China, a key Myanmar ally and a veto-holding permanent member of the council.

The meeting, which was held virtually, followed the military’s detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other top politicians in a series of early morning raids on Monday, after which armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing assumed power.

Diplomats said discussions on a statement would continue.

The 15-member council was considering a UK-drafted statement that the United Nations’ envoy on Myanmar told diplomats should “collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy” in the country.

“I strongly condemn the recent steps taken by the military and urge all of you to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar,” Christine Schraner Burgener told the council, according to her prepared remarks.

The military has said its coup was constitutional and promised to hold new elections, claiming last November’s poll was fraudulent without evidence. A state of emergency will remain in force for one year.

“Let us be clear, the recent outcome of the election was a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD),” Schraner Burgenershe said. “The military’s proposal to hold elections again should be discouraged.”

Protesters from Myanmar living in Japan hold a portrait of leader Aung San Suu Kyi at a rally against the military coup outside the United Nations University in Tokyo [Issei Kato/Reuters]

The Security Council is negotiating a possible statement, drafted by Britain, that would not only condemn the coup, but also call for the military to respect the rule of law and human rights and immediately release those unlawfully detained, diplomats said. Such statements have to be agreed by consensus.

“China and Russia have asked for more time,” one diplomat told the AFP news agency following the behind-closed-doors video conference meeting that lasted just over two hours.

“A statement is still under discussion,” confirmed another diplomat, also on condition of anonymity.

The text, drafted by Britain, would also demand that the state of emergency be repealed and “for all sides to adhere to democratic norms.” There was no mention of sanctions, according to AFP.

Human rights groups condemned the failure of the council to take swift action.

“No one should be surprised that the world’s body for maintaining international peace and security failed to issue a statement condemning a brazen military coup,” Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center said in a statement urging world leaders to take action including selected sanctions, arms embargoes and economic divestment to “disempower” the military.

“The time has passed for failed strategies promoting ‘stability’ and quiet diplomacy over accountability and justice,” she said. “The military has destabilized the country irreparably. It’s now on the international community to stem the tide of military violence and impunity before it’s too late.”

China factor

The security council met as Aung San Suu Kyi was reported to be in “good health“. Her whereabouts and condition remain unknown although she is thought to be being held in the country’s remote capital of Naypyidaw where she has a home.

While she has apparently backed protests, people have been reluctant to take to the streets given the military’s reputation for brutality and previous crackdowns on peaceful rallies.

Instead, a campaign of civil disobedience began on Wednesday with staff at 70 hospitals and medical departments in 30 towns across Myanmar stopping work to protest against the coup.

“I want the soldiers to go back to their dorms and that’s why we doctors are not going to hospitals,” one 29-year-old doctor in Yangon told Reuters news agency.

“I don’t have a time frame for how long I will keep on this strike. It depends on the situation.”

People in Yangon also picked up pots and pans on Tuesday night to bang out their disgust at the power grab.

Consolidating its grip on power, the military unveiled a new governing council headed by Min Aung Hlaing and including eight generals. The council echoes similar councils that ruled Myanmar during decades of military dictatorship from 1962.

The security council’s statement requires the support of China, Myanmar’s main supporter at the UN and a permanent member of the Security Council. China has not condemned the coup, while state media characterised Monday’s events as a “cabinet reshuffle”.

China, with Russia’s backing, shielded Myanmar from any significant council action after a brutal military crackdown in Rakhine State led to more than 740,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh, where they remain. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Western states accused the Myanmar military of ethnic cleansing, which it denied.

The country is currently being investigated for genocide at the International Court of Justice over its treatment of the Rohingya in a case brought by The Gambia.

A diplomat with China’s UN mission said after a Council meeting on Tuesday that they were “shocked” that reporters had already seen the draft statement, adding that it would “make the process of seeking consensus even more difficult.”

“We are of the view that any action by the Council should contribute to political and social stability of Myanmar and its peace and reconciliation, avoiding escalating the tension or further complicating the situation,” the diplomat said.

Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Myanmar amid a brutal military crackdown in 2017. On that occasion, China shielded Myanmar from Security Council action [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

Russia’s UN mission is seeking instructions from Moscow on the draft statement, said Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy, adding that the situation in Myanmar was “complex and volatile.”

The United Nations also raised fears on Monday that the coup will only worsen the plight of some 600,000 Rohingya who still live in the country.

“At this point in time, we must ensure the protection of people of Myanmar and their fundamental rights. We must do everything to prevent violence from breaking out,” Schraner Burgener said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies