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February 12th, 2021  •  Author: UN Human Rights Council  •  12 minute read
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12 February 2021

The Human Rights Council this morning opened its special session on “the human rights implications of the crisis in Myanmar”, hearing the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights say that the seizure of power by the Myanmar military constituted a profound setback for the country, after a decade of hard-won gains in its democratic transition.

Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Myanmar’s democratically elected political leadership, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, had been detained on politically motivated charges.  The Office was tracking more than 350 political and State officials, activists and civil society members, including journalists, monks and students, who had been taken into custody.  To this Council, she recommended the strongest possible call for the military authorities to respect the election result, return power to civilian control, and immediately release all individuals arbitrarily detained.

Tom Andrews, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, speaking on behalf of his mandate as well as the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, noted that it was not the first time that the leaders of the Myanmar military, otherwise known as the “Tatmadaw”, had demonstrated their cynical belief that they were above the law – their own laws and the laws of nations.    Even if election irregularities did exist, there was no justification for declaring a state of emergency, arresting the civilian leadership, and attempting to destroy Myanmar’s fledgling democracy.  “As the people of Myanmar demonstrate their remarkable courage and resolve, let us demonstrate our support of them and the principles and values that they are fighting for,” Mr. Andrews added.

Myanmar, speaking as a concerned country, said that, in light of the post-election irregularities and the following complex situation in the country, Tatmadaw was compelled to take the State responsibilities in accordance with the State Constitution.  The state of emergency was declared for one year, and the legislative, executive and judicial powers of the State were transferred by the Acting President to the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces.  The State Administration Council was formed on 2 February 2021 with 16 members, including 8 senior military officials and 8 civilians.  The Council retained the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to continue their duties and responsibilities.    Myanmar was undergoing extremely complex challenges and a delicate transition, and therefore looked forward to receiving better understanding on the prevailing situation in the country, and constructive engagement and cooperation from the international community.

In the ensuing debate, some speakers said the military should release immediately the President, the State Counsellor and all those detained arbitrarily, and provide assurances of their safety and wellbeing.  Any allegations of irregularities related to the elections should be settled through proper legal channels.  Deeply shocked by reports of the use of live bullets against protestors, speakers called on the military to guarantee the safety of all peaceful demonstrators.  Other speakers said the special session was not conducive to dialogue and cooperation with the concerned country and pointed out that the transfer of power to the State Administration Council had not led to an overhaul of the human rights architecture in Myanmar.  Yet again, a special session had been organized by some countries against a country of the Global South.  Reiterating their long-held position on country-specific human rights issues, speakers said what happened in Myanmar was essentially Myanmar’s affair.

Speaking were representatives of Portugal on behalf of the European Union,  Denmark, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Libya, Austria, India, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Russian Federation, Poland, Brazil, Namibia, Bangladesh, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, China, Japan, Nepal, Netherlands, Sudan, Marshall Islands
Ukraine, Philippines, Eritrea, Pakistan, Canada, Sierra Leone, Ireland, Norway, Botswana, Malaysia, Lithuania, Ecuador, Estonia, Slovenia, Romania, Sweden, Greece, Israel, Belarus, Holy See, New Zealand, Belgium, United States, Singapore, Liechtenstein, Malta, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Luxembourg, Croatia, Finland, Turkey, Switzerland, United Nations Children’s Fund, Australia, Viet Nam, Slovakia, Iceland, Tunisia, Jordan, Spain, South Africa, Maldives, Qatar, Brunei Darussalam and United Kingdom on behalf of a group of countries.

The Council will resume its special session on Myanmar at 3 p.m. this afternoon and it is expected to take action on a draft resolution on the situation in Myanmar at the end of the day before closing the special session.

Opening Statements

Ambassador NAZHAT KHAN of Fiji, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the special session of the Council on the human rights implications of the crisis in Myanmar.  She said that all delegations had shown a sense of commitment to ensure that, despite the current circumstances that prevented in-person meetings, the Council would meet in a hybrid environment.  While not ideal, the hybrid modalities proposed for this session were the only option at this stage, and would only apply to this session, as a five-person limit was currently imposed on public gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  These modalities should not, therefore, serve as a precedent.

NADA AL-NASHIF, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the seizure of power by the Myanmar military earlier this month constituted a profound setback for the country, after a decade of hard-won gains in its democratic transition.  Myanmar’s democratically elected political leadership, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, had been detained on politically motivated charges.  The Office was tracking more than 350 political and State officials, activists and civil society members, including journalists, monks and students, who had been taken into custody.  Several faced criminal charges on dubious grounds.  Most had received no form of due process and had not been permitted legal representation, family visitations or communication.  Some remained missing, with no information as to their whereabouts or well-being.

Ms. Al-Nashif said that she and the High Commissioner greatly admired the conviction of the demonstrators – many of them young people and women, from diverse ethnic backgrounds – who had peacefully marched and participated in other activities to oppose the coup and crackdown.  It was they who represented Myanmar’s future: a future of shared justice and equitably shared national wealth amid harmonious relationships between peoples and communities.  The indiscriminate use of lethal or less-than-lethal weapons against peaceful protestors was unacceptable.  More violence against Myanmar’s people would only compound the illegitimacy of the coup, and the culpability of its leaders.  This crisis was born of impunity.  Long-standing lack of civilian control over the military, its disproportionate influence in the country’s political and economic structures, and its ongoing failure to genuinely account for crimes committed by the security forces over decades, had combined to compromise Myanmar’s democratization and its development.  The democratic crisis that the people of Myanmar faced was deepened by economic disaster wreaked by the pandemic.

To the international community, Ms. Al-Nashif expressed her concern that any sanctions under consideration should be carefully targeted against specific individuals who were credibly alleged to have violated the people’s rights.  Leaders of this coup were an appropriate focus of such actions.  To this Council, she recommended the strongest possible call for the military authorities to respect the election result, return power to civilian control, and immediately release all individuals arbitrarily detained.  Additionally, the military authorities must not be allowed to exacerbate the situation of Rohingya people, after the extreme violence and decades of discrimination they had endured.  Myanmar must fully comply with the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice, and move to genuinely address the root causes of conflicts in Rakhine state and other ethnic minority areas.

She regretted that her Office had long been denied a presence in Myanmar, and urged the military authorities to grant it and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar full and immediate access.  To the people of Myanmar, she expressed support for their rights to justice, to freedom, to democratic participation, to personal safety and security, and to peaceful, sustainable and inclusive development.

TOM ANDREWS, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, speaking on behalf of his mandate as well as the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, noted that it was not the first time that the leaders of the Myanmar military, otherwise known as the “Tatmadaw,” had demonstrated their cynical belief that they were above the law – their own laws and the laws of nations.    Even if election irregularities did exist, there was no justification for declaring a state of emergency, arresting the civilian leadership, and attempting to destroy Myanmar’s fledgling democracy.  The military junta had even failed to follow its own requirements for taking control of the country as specified in the constitution that the military itself drafted.  This coup was truly illegal in every sense of the word.  The international community must refuse to recognize this illegal regime.

It was clear from his observations, consultations and discussions that opposition to the military coup was strong and it ran across the diversity of the Myanmar people.  Despite the history of brutal crackdowns and with automatic weapons now trained on them, citizen protests were springing up in literally hundreds and hundreds of Myanmar townships, large and small.  The response of police and security forces to the peaceful protests of a people united had gone from restraint to intimidation to bloodshed.  There were growing reports and photographic evidence that Myanmar security forces had used live ammunition–– lethal force––against protesters.   This violated international law.  Arbitrary detentions and intimidation were also on the rise.   Based on currently available information, since announcing the coup, the junta had detained at least 220 government officials and members of civil society.  The Myanmar media was also coming under increasing threat from the junta.

The United Nations Security Council should be encouraged to consider all of the options it had previously used to deal with gross human rights violations.  Barring concrete steps from the Security Council, the General Assembly could convene an Emergency Special Session.  Member States themselves, of course, had the ability to act and were beginning to do so.  He expected and urged other Member States to impose targeted sanctions and bilateral arms embargos, and ensure that the assistance that they provided to the people of Myanmar went to civil society organizations directly, whenever possible, instead of through the junta.  This Council should encourage these steps.  The private industry meanwhile had a responsibility to respect all internationally recognized human rights wherever they operated, in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  “As the people of Myanmar demonstrate their remarkable courage and resolve, let us demonstrate our support of them and the principles and values that they are fighting for,” Mr. Andrews concluded.

Statement by Concerned Country

Myanmar, speaking as a concerned country, said that, in light of the post-election irregularities and the following complex situation in the country, Tatmadaw was compelled to take the State responsibilities in accordance with the State Constitution.  The state of emergency was declared for one year, and the legislative, executive and judicial powers of the State were transferred by the Acting President to the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces.  The State Administration Council was formed on 2 February 2021 with 16 members, including 8 senior military officials and 8 civilians.  The Council retained the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to continue their duties and responsibilities.

On humanitarian matters, Myanmar would extend its continued cooperation with the United Nations, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the World Food Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other development partners.  Myanmar would continue to implement the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, and the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Rakhine state.  Myanmar would steadfastly perform its duties as a State party to the international treaties, including the core human rights instruments and the International Labour Organization Conventions.  As a member of ASEAN, Myanmar would continue to uphold the purposes and principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.

On COVID-19, Myanmar would continue to exert utmost efforts to overcome the health and socio-economic challenges, and mitigate negative effects on the livelihood of the people.  Myanmar was undergoing extremely complex challenges and a delicate transition, and therefore looked forward to receiving better understanding on the prevailing situation in the country, and constructive engagement and cooperation from the international community.

General Debate

Condemning the coup in the strongest terms, speakers said the military should release immediately the President, the State Counsellor and all those detained arbitrarily, and provide assurances of their safety and wellbeing.  Any allegations of irregularities related to the elections should be settled through the proper legal channels.  Deeply shocked by reports of the use of live bullets against protestors, speakers called on the military to guarantee the safety of all peaceful demonstrators.  The right to access to information, as well as the freedoms of opinion and assembly, both online and offline, must be respected.

Other speakers said the special session was not conducive to dialogue and cooperation with the concerned country and pointed out that the transfer of power to the State Administration Council had not led to an overhaul of the human rights architecture in the country.  Yet again, a special session had been organized by some countries against a country of the Global South.  Reiterating their long-held position on country-specific human rights issues, speakers said what happened in Myanmar was essentially Myanmar’s affair.

Some speakers urged the reconvening of parliament, and others announced they would cease all development cooperation with the now illegitimate government.  In the current circumstances, it was crucial that the Special Rapporteur be allowed to continue his work, and it was particularly important to consider the rights of internally displaced individuals and refugees.  It was necessary to establish a clear pathway to citizenship for the Rohingyas from Rakhine state, and ensure the voluntary and safe return of Rohingya refugees.  Council Members should put in place targeted action against the military, some said.  The military must uphold the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which it was a party.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/02/suite-la-prise-de-pouvoir-par-larmee-du-myanmar-la-haute

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For use of the information media; not an official record


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