Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. (Photo: UNHCR)

Earlier this month on 12 July, 2021, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution on Myanmar, the latest of a series of resolutions by UN bodies since the military coup that hit the country last 1 February. The text, which was presented by Pakistan on behalf of the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, was approved without a vote. However, China, which is one of the 47 member states of the Council, indicated before its adoption that it would not join the consensus.

The Myanmar situation has been controversial since the beginning of the Human Rights Council’s session on 21 June when a few states tactically suggested to postpone two crucial Interactive Dialogues (IDs) with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar. The dialogues eventually took place, and a resolution adopted.

A failure to condemn the military coup

However, as underlined by Austria in its intervention on behalf of the European Union, the text fails to clearly condemn the coup as well as the military junta currently holding the power.  It does, however, call for “the immediate cessation of fighting and hostilities, of the targeting of civilians and of all violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law”. Nevertheless, the overall tone is diluted from than the one used in June, when the United Nations General Assembly voted to formally condemn the February coup and called for an end to arms sales with the military powers.

It is quite deplorable that some countries, including members of the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council, appear to be ignoring mounting evidence of atrocities and grave violations of human rights abuses committed by the military. They are even treating the military junta as if it were the country’s legitimate authority. What else needs to happen for the international community, particularly the UN bodies specifically created to prevent and address such crisis situations, to take decisive actions?

While the world struggles to find consensus, the human rights situation across the country is deteriorating day by day, developing from a political crisis to what the UN recently described as a “multi-dimensional Human Rights catastrophe”.  Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, is further plunging the country into chaos, committing grave human rights violations including unlawful use of force against peaceful demonstrators, arbitrary arrests, detention, and torture. Independent media have been banned and access to the internet and social media cut off. Since the coup, more than 900 people have been killed, including children and medical staff, and thousands of people arbitrarily detained by the Tatmadaw. A staggering 200,000 have been forced to flee their homes because of violent Tatmadaw raids on neighbourhoods and villages.

Current actions are not enough

All the resolutions and statements adopted by the UN General Assembly, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council as well as ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus are welcome moves. But such actions are nowhere near enough. They must be followed up and acted upon in a mutually reinforcing manner. Far more robust and coordinated actions by the international community and UN Bodies are needed to isolate the military junta and restore democracy and rule of law in the country.

First, the international community must refrain from any measures that risks lending legitimacy to the regime. States should abstain from giving diplomatic recognition to the military junta. Instead, countries should maintain diplomatic relations with, and give recognition to, the people-elected National Unity Government of Myanmar. Its legitimacy to represent Myanmar must be duly recognised by the UN Bodies, especially the UN General Assembly. In addition, the international community should cut all support or any connection to the junta. This includes imposing economic sanctions against the military and related companies as well as a global arms embargo on Myanmar to prevent further escalation of violence and offensives by the military.

Second, accountability for grave human rights violations committed by the Tatmadaw, not only since the coup, but also in the past, must be ensured. States should support an independent international investigation by the UN bodies and hold those responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses accountable.

Third, the international community must provide neutral and impartial humanitarian assistance to those on the ground. As the UN’s World Food Programme recently warned, up to 3.4 million more people could go hungry in the coming months due to the economic disruption caused by the political crisis – on top of 2.8 million people considered food insecure before the coup. States should ensure the prompt delivery of humanitarian assistance to those suffering, based on need only and without channelling aid through the military.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has stressed the challenge: “Time is of the essence,” she maintained. “The opportunity to reverse the military takeover is narrowing and the risk of a large-scale civil war is real.” The UN must not fail the people of Myanmar again. The time to act is now.

Patrick Mutzenberg is director of the Geneva-based Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) which he founded in 2010. The CCPR seeks to contribute to the implementation of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) worldwide. Patrick worked previously for the Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT) as well as for Caritas Genève. He is also Judge at the Criminal Tribunal in Geneva and lecturer in international law at the Law Faculty of the University of Grenoble.

Patrick Mutzenberg

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