Myanmar faces European push at UN to condemn coup

A demonstrator holds a banner in front of posters showing mock 'Wanted' pictures of military junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, 10 February 2021. [Lynn Bo Bo/EPA/EFE]

The United Nations’ top human rights body is to consider a resolution on Friday (12 February) drafted by Britain and the European Union that would condemn Myanmar’s military coup and demand urgent access for monitors, a text seen by Reuters shows.

However, diplomats said Human Rights Council members China and Russia – who both have ties to Myanmar’s armed forces – are expected to raise objections or try to weaken the text.

Procedural wrangling began on Monday, with Beijing and Moscow raising objections over virtual voting as officials met to plan both the council’s four-week session from 22 February and Friday’s special session on Myanmar.

The UN Security Council last week called for the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others detained by the military but stopped short of condemning the coup.

Protesters took to the streets for a fifth day on Wednesday, vowing to keep up demonstrations against the coup even after a woman was shot and critically wounded.

Myanmar military tightens grip as anti-coup protests enter fifth day

Myanmar’s military tightened its post-coup grip on power, stepping up a campaign of intimidation against the ousted civilian leadership while pushing harsher tactics as a fifth consecutive day of nationwide demonstrations began on Wednesday (10 February).

“It’s only a matter of time until there is a big-scale confrontation,” a UN official told Reuters of the protests.

The request by Britain and the EU received formal support from 19 members, including Myanmar’s fellow Asian nations Japan and South Korea, at the 47-member forum.

“We have to keep up the pressure,” a European diplomat said.

The draft resolution condemns the ousting of the civilian government and calls for its restoration and the unconditional release of those “arbitrarily detained”. It urges the military to refrain from using violence against peaceful protesters, while ensuring freedom of expression and an open internet.

Thomas Andrews, the UN investigator on human rights in Myanmar, should be granted urgent, unrestricted access, it says.

Andrews, in a statement on Wednesday, said security forces and police have a duty to refrain from using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators and that “following orders is no defence for committing atrocities”.

The United States, which backed convening Friday’s session, is imposing new sanctions on those behind the coup and any linked entities.

US President Joe Biden said his administration was cutting off Myanmar generals’ access to $1 billion in funds in the US and would soon unveil new sanctions.

“I again call on the Burmese military to immediately release democratic political leaders and activists they are now detaining including Aung San Suu Kyi and also Win Myint, the president,” Biden said.

Biden’s remarks come after European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned the bloc could impose fresh sanctions on Myanmar’s military, but said any measures should be targeted to avoid hitting the wider population.

Biden said the US would “work with our international partners to urge other nations to join us in these efforts.”

Journalist detained

More politicians from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) were detained Tuesday along with 30 others — including a journalist from local broadcaster DVB — at a protest in Mandalay, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group said.

Myanmar military seizes power, detains elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup against the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in early morning raids.

Their arrests in Yangon came as police fired tear gas at protesters who were waving red NLD flags.

State media reported the crowd had thrown objects at police and injured four officers — its first direct mention of the protests since they began on the weekend.

“Therefore, the police members dispersed in accordance with the methods and laws,” the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported, without mentioning other police confrontations elsewhere in the country.

Hundreds of protesters in Mandalay were undeterred Wednesday, returning to the streets carrying signs that said “Down with dictatorship”.

Elsewhere, the discipline of security forces appeared to be breaking down, with four officers defecting from their lines in the eastern town of Loikaw to join the anti-coup protests, according to local media reports.

Soldiers raided NLD headquarters in Yangon after night fell, but party member Soe Win told AFP that his colleagues had been prevented from intervening due to a blanket curfew imposed on the city.

The following morning he arrived on the scene to find door locks broken, computer equipment missing, server cables cut and bank documents taken from a safe box.

‘Respect the vote’

The military justified last week’s power grab by claiming widespread voter fraud in the November polls, which saw a landslide for Suu Kyi’s party.

It quickly moved to stack courts and political offices with loyalists.

In the 10 days since army chief Min Aung Hlaing ousted the Nobel laureate from power and ended a decade of civilian rule, Myanmar has been roiled by a burgeoning civil disobedience campaign and massive street protests.

Medical staff, air traffic controllers and teachers have staged strikes, while others have fastened red ribbons on their uniforms or posed for photos while brandishing the three-finger salute adopted by the anti-coup movement.

By Wednesday, the military announced that special hotlines have been set up for civil servants to report if they were being bullied for not participating in anti-coup activities.

A tech-focused Myanmar civil society organisation also tweeted that a draft cyber security bill had been sent to telecoms companies — which last week were ordered to briefly shut down internet services.

According to MIDO, the bill will allow the military to “order shutdowns, website bans, content take downs and interceptions”, while also requiring social media platforms to hand over users’ metadata to authorities upon request.

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