The United Nations Security Council has adopted its first resolution on Myanmar in 74 years, which demands an end to violence and calls on the country’s military rulers to release all political prisoners, including democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myanmar’s military seized power from Suu Kyi’s elected government in February 2021, arresting her and other officials, and has responded to pro-democracy protests and dissent with lethal force that has killed several thousand people and seen more than 16,000 jailed.
China and Russia, who have supported Myanmar’s military leaders since the coup, abstained from the UN vote on Wednesday, along with India. The remaining 12 members of the powerful council voted in favour of the resolution.
“Today we’ve sent a firm message to the military that they should be in no doubt – we expect this resolution to be implemented in full,” the United Kingdom’s UN ambassador, Barbara Woodward, said after the vote.
“We’ve also sent a clear message to the people of Myanmar that we seek progress in line with their rights, their wishes and their interests,” Woodward said.
The only other resolution concerning Myanmar was adopted by the Security Council in 1948, when the body recommended the UN General Assembly admit the country – then known as Burma – as a member of the world body.
China’s UN ambassador, Zhang Jun, told the council after abstaining on the vote that “there is no quick fix to the issue”.
“Whether or not it can be properly resolved in the end, depends fundamentally, and only, on Myanmar itself,” he said.
He said China had wanted the Security Council to adopt a formal statement on Myanmar, not a resolution.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said Moscow did not view the situation in Myanmar as a threat to international security and therefore believed it should not be dealt with by the UN Security Council.
Enormous internal public opposition to the military’s takeover of Myanmar has since turned into armed resistance some UN experts have characterised as “civil war”.
Last month, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights monitoring organisation, said more than 16,000 people had been arrested on political charges in Myanmar since the military coup. Of them, more than 13,000 were still in detention.
The association also said at least 2,465 civilians had been killed since the military’s power grab, although the actual number is thought to be far higher.
Negotiations on the draft Security Council resolution began in September. The initial text – seen by the Reuters news agency – urged an end to the transfer of arms to Myanmar and threatened sanctions, but that language has since been removed.
Russia and China are among the largest supplier of weapons to Myanmar’s military with missiles, primarily, and aircraft supplied by Moscow and naval ships, aircraft, guns and armoured vehicles purchased from China.
The group Burma Campaign UK welcomed the resolution but said it would have “no practical impact” and that imposing a global arms embargo on Myanmar’s military should have been a “no-brainer first step”.
“The supply of arms doesn’t even get a mention in the resolution,” said Mark Farmaner, the group’s director, said in a statement.
“Russia, China and India are using their seats on the Security Council to protect their profitable dodgy arms deals with the Burmese military,” he said.
“At the United Nations it might be seen as a diplomatic coup to get this resolution passed but in Burma it will have no impact for people living under a military coup,” he added.
UN Security Council passes #Myanmar resolution! Reaction from #Burma Campaign UK is spot on – great first step, but where's the gloabl arms embargo on the SAC junta who are killing #Burmese across the country every day? @burmacampaignuk https://t.co/NMbtCSMncB
— Phil Robertson (@Reaproy) December 22, 2022
The adopted resolution expresses “deep concern” at the continuing state of emergency imposed by the military when it seized power and its “grave impact” on Myanmar’s people.
It also urges “concrete and immediate actions” to implement a peace plan agreed on by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and issues a call to “uphold democratic institutions and processes and to pursue constructive dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people”.
Al Jazeera’s Diplomatic Editor James Bays, reporting from the UN in New York, said that diplomats he spoke with were not expecting the military government in Myanmar to comply with all the articles in the resolution, but “they are hoping it will restart diplomacy”, which is being led by the regional ASEAN grouping.
Malaysia’s ministry of foreign affairs said on Thursday it welcomed the resolution and the support expressed for ASEAN’s role in finding a “peaceful solution to the situation in Myanmar”.
“Malaysia will work closely with ASEAN and with external partners to ensure progress on these efforts in the interests of the people of Myanmar,” the ministry said in a statement.
Press Release: The adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution on the Situation in Myanmar, 21 December 2022 pic.twitter.com/RLlUyclTOC
— Wisma Putra (@MalaysiaMFA) December 22, 2022
The resolution also underlines the need “for a peaceful, genuine and inclusive process to de-escalate violence and reach a sustainable political resolution.”
It underscores the need to address the crisis in Rakhine state and create conditions for the return of ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims who were forced out of Buddhist-majority Myanmar in a brutal military operation in August 2018, which the US has described as an act of genocide.
Some 700,000 Rohingya people still live as refugees in neighbouring Bangladesh while others remain displaced in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s UN ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, who represents Suu Kyi’s toppled government and still holds the Security Council seat, said while there were positive elements in the resolution, the National Unity Government – comprised of remnants of Suu Kyi’s administration – would have preferred a stronger text.
“We are clear this is only a first step,” he told reporters.
“The National Unity Government calls on the UNSC (to build) on this resolution to take further and stronger action to ensure the end of the military junta and its crimes.”