UN Shows Conflicting Approaches to Myanmar Crisis

    Myanmar’s already abysmal human rights situation is getting worse.

    That’s what senior United Nations officials told the UN Security Council on April 4, during a rare open meeting on Myanmar, its first since February 2019.

    The council heard of a spiraling human rights and humanitarian catastrophe, with particularly worrisome abuses in Rakhine State. Conflict has “weakened transnational security” and instability has led to a crisis with “global implications,” officials said.

    In December 2022, the council adopted Resolution 2669, condemning the Myanmar military’s abuses and attacks on civilians since its February 2021 coup. The resolution called on the military to release political prisoners, restore democratic institutions, and engage in dialogue.

    Since then, however, the Security Council has been largely silent on the situation.

    Meanwhile, Myanmar’s junta has ramped up attacks on civilians, including airstrikes, and increasingly blocked humanitarian aid. Refugees are fleeing to Bangladesh, China, India, and Thailand. Thousands of Rohingya are making dangerous journeys by sea to find refuge in Indonesia, Malaysia, and elsewhere.

    The open meeting occurred the same day as the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a new resolution on Myanmar, which urged the UN secretary-general and General Assembly to renew attention to Myanmar at the Security Council.

    The Security Council should take more meaningful steps to address rights concerns, including instituting an arms embargo, referring the situation to the International Criminal Court, and imposing targeted sanctions on military-owned companies. Regional efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been utterly inadequate.

    The Human Rights Council’s April 4 resolution calls for restricting the Myanmar military’s access to jet fuel, a call echoed by the United States at the Security Council meeting.

    But at the Security Council, China and Russia continue to block consideration of an embargo or any other measures, and now oppose even holding debates. At the Security Council meeting, both disputed that the situation in Myanmar was within the council’s mandate.

    Almost every other member government raised serious concerns about the crisis, and many bemoaned the body’s inaction.

    The Security Council needs to act. Even countries usually not in favor of strong UN action on human rights in Myanmar should recognize the dangers of continued inaction.

    As a Japanese delegate put it, the Security Council’s inaction is not what the people of Myanmar “expect from this august body.” 

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