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U.N. General Assembly condemns Myanmar coup, calls for arms embargo

An internally displaced woman in Myanmar
An internally displaced woman in Myanmar sits inside her makeshift tent in Demawso Township.
(Associated Press)

In a rare move, the U.N. General Assembly on Friday condemned Myanmar’s military coup and called for an arms embargo against the country in a resolution that demonstrated widespread global opposition to the junta and demanded the restoration of the country’s democratic transition.

Supporters had hoped the 193-member U.N. General Assembly would approve the resolution unanimously by consensus, but Belarus called for a vote. The measure was approved with 119 countries voting “yes,” Belarus voting “no” and 36 countries abstaining, including Myanmar’s neighbors China and India, along with Russia.

The resolution was the result of lengthy negotiations by a so-called Core Group including the European Union and many Western nations and the 10-member Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations known as ASEAN, which includes Myanmar. A U.N. diplomat said there was an agreement with ASEAN to seek consensus, but in the vote its members were divided, with some, including Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam, voting “yes” and others, including Thailand and Laos, abstaining.

Even though the resolution didn’t get the overwhelming support its backers hoped for, the action by the General Assembly, while not legally binding, reflects international condemnation of the Feb. 1 coup that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s party from power and put her and many other government leaders and politicians under arrest, and also reflects strong opposition to the military crackdown on protesters demanding an end to the army’s takeover.

Burmese in the U.S. are protesting the brutal crackdown and urging global intervention. But it’s hard to overcome a lack of knowledge and interest.

The resolution calls on Myanmar’s military junta to restore the country’s democratic transition, condemns its “excessive and lethal violence” since the coup, and calls on all countries “to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar.”

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The resolution also calls on the armed forces to immediately and unconditionally release President Win Myint, State Counsellor Suu Kyi and other government officials and politicians detained after the coup, “and all those who have been arbitrarily detained, charged or arrested.”

EU Ambassador Olof Skoog said the resolution “sends a strong and powerful message,” calling it “the broadest and most universal condemnation of the situation in Myanmar to date.”

“It delegitimizes the military junta, condemns its abuse and violence against its own people and demonstrates its isolation in the eyes of the world,” he said. “The U.N. community of nations has expressed resounding support to the people of Myanmar — that their human rights and freedoms must be protected, and that their democratically elected leaders must be released from detention.”

The Anti-Corruption Commission under Myanmar’s military junta has found that ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi accepted bribes and misused her authority.

Richard Gowan, U.N. director of the International Crisis Group, said he is “only aware of three previous General Assembly resolutions condemning coups in this way since the end of the Cold War.”

The assembly has called for arms embargoes and sanctions, including on Israel and South Africa during the Cold War, he said, but “this is a rare call to stop arms flows, and Western diplomats deserve credit for getting a fairly clear and firm call to halt arms supplies to Myanmar, especially as ASEAN members had doubts about such language.”

Assessing the impact of the resolution, Gowan told the Associated Press: “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 U.N. members are not willing to sweep the coup under the rug,” Gowan said.


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