Some 60 percent of protesters against the military coup are women who fear their hard-won rights hang in the balance.
The UN Security Council on Friday again demanded the restoration of democracy in Myanmar and the release of all detainees including elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as it threw its weight behind calls by Southeast Asian nations for an immediate end to violence and talks to resolve the political crisis resulting from the generals’ February 1 coup.
The council’s press statement followed a briefing by the top UN envoy that the strong, united demand for democracy by the people of Myanmar who have been protesting since the military’s power grab has created “unexpected difficulties” for military leaders in consolidating power and risks bringing the administration of the nation to a standstill.
Christine Schraner Burgener, who is currently in Bangkok, told the 15-member council that her discussions in Southeast Asia had “compounded” her concern that the situation in Myanmar is deteriorating in all areas.
She pointed to a resurgence of fighting in ethnic areas, more poor people losing jobs, civil servants refusing to work to protest against the coup and a brewing crisis of families in and around the main city Yangon “pushed to the edge” of hunger, going into debt and trying to survive.
“The common aspiration for democracy has united the people of Myanmar across religious, ethnic and communal divides like never before,” Schraner Burgener said. “Such strong unity has created unexpected difficulties for the military in consolidating power and stabilising the coup.”
Security Council members “reiterated their deep concern at the situation in Myanmar following the declaration of the state of emergency imposed by the military on February 1 and reiterated their support for Myanmar’s democratic transition.”
The council also reiterated previous statements, which include strongly condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians, calling for the restoration of democracy and release of detainees.
Schraner Burgener attended the April 24 meeting of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta, where the group called for an immediate end to violence, and dialogue to address the political crisis.
The UN envoy said she was able to hold talks with army chief Min Aung Hlaing on the sidelines of the event and again asked to be allowed to visit Myanmar.
They agreed “to keep details of the exchange discreet to allow for continued frank and open discussions”, she said, but she assured the council that she “amplified” the statements its 15 members had approved.
Schraner Burgener has repeatedly asked to travel to Myanmar – where the generals detained Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her elected government before seizing power three months ago – but the military has yet to give her its permission.
Pro-democracy protests have taken place in cities and towns across the country since the coup.
“The general administration of the state could risk coming to a standstill as the pro-democracy movement continues in spite of the ongoing use of lethal force, arbitrary arrests and torture as part of the military’s repression,” the envoy said, according to diplomats.
Calls for robust response
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an advocacy group that has been tracking arrests and deaths since the coup, said security forces have killed at least 759 protesters while more than 4,500 people have been detained for opposing the coup. Some 3,485 people remain in custody, according to the AAPP.
In a number of statements, the Security Council has strongly condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters, called for the restoration of democracy, and the release of those detained.
— Wai Wai Nu (@waiwainu) April 30, 2021
People of #Burma want to tell @eu_eeas @USStateDepartm2 @FCDOGovUK & @SchranerBurgen1 that don’t fall into the trap that the junta would take to the @Asean’s 5 consensus seriously. At least don’t waste your time. @Mandy_Segall @Milktea_Myanmar @NUGMyanmar @sophiacmcbride @Reaproy
— Kyaw Win (@kyawwin78) April 30, 2021
Civil society groups said the Security Council needs to agree on a more robust response.
“The military has already reneged on the flawed ‘consensus’ it reached with ASEAN leaders, so it’s critical the international community not treat last weekend’s outcome as a legitimate path forward for Myanmar,” Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said in a statement ahead of the closed-door briefing.
“The Security Council must keep its focus on the solutions long demanded by Myanmar’s people, in particular women-led civil society groups, including a global arms embargo, targeted sanctions, and a referral to the International Criminal Court. It’s unconscionable that the Council has yet to act and they cannot deflect their responsibility to do so because others, like ASEAN, have ‘acted’.”
The military, which ruled Myanmar for almost 50 years, until it began tentative moves towards democracy a decade ago, has acknowledged that some protesters have been killed but accused them of initiating the violence.
Schraner Burgener said there were concerning reports that civilians, mostly students from the urban areas, were being trained how to use weapons by ethnic armed groups in border areas.
“In the absence of a collective international response, there has been a rise in violence and reported use of improvised explosive devices,” she said, according to diplomats.
The United Nations estimates that approximately 20,000 people have fled their homes and remain displaced within Myanmar while almost 10,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, the UN envoy said.
The World Food Programme has said preexisting poverty, COVID-19 and the political crisis are likely to lead 3.4 million more people into hunger within the next six months, while the UNDP has warned almost half of Myanmar’s population could be plunged into poverty by next year.