The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has called on Myanmar’s ruling military junta to release all political prisoners, including deposed State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint, in its first resolution passed on the Southeast Asian country since its independence.
UNSC Resolution 2669 on Myanmar expressed “deep concern at the ongoing state of emergency imposed by the military,” and emphasized the need to tackle several long-standing issues. It also called for greater humanitarian assistance for victims of violence, with emphasis on women, children and displaced populations, including the Rohingya – a persecuted mostly Muslim minority.
The act comes nearly two years after the military staged a violent coup, overthrowing the democratically elected government and arresting civilian leaders including Suu Kyi.
Freedoms and rights in Myanmar under the military junta have deteriorated markedly. State executions have returned, thousands of people have been arrested for protesting against military rule, and the number of documented violent attacks by the army on civilian areas, including schools, has surged, according to non-governmental organizations. The junta claims it is fighting what it calls “terrorists,” and promises a return to peace.
Wednesday’s resolution was proposed by Britain and passed with 12 votes in favor, none against, and three abstentions from China, India, and Russia.
Suu Kyi is currently being held in solitary confinement at a prison in the capital Naypyidaw on a slew of charges. To date, the 77-year-old former Nobel Nobel Peace Prize winner has been sentenced to 26 years in prison, including three years of hard labor. The convictions, which critics and international observers say are politically motivated, mostly relate to the November 2020 general election that her National League for Democracy won in a landslide, defeating a party created by the military.
In a statement Wednesday, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States applauded the Security Council for adopting the resolution. “With this resolution, the international community demands that Burma’s military regime cease its horrific violence, immediately release those arbitrarily detained, allow unhindered humanitarian access, protect minority groups,” she said referring to Myanmar by its older name.
But she said it “only represents a step toward ending the bloodshed. Much more must be done,” adding the UNSC must “promote accountability for the Burma military regime’s atrocities and abuses.”
“Since the junta violently seized power in February 2021, they have conducted a brutal campaign against the people of Myanmar – burning villages, running indiscriminate airstrikes, torture and mass killings,” the British Ambassador to the UN, Barbara Woodward, said in a statement.
“This resolution sends a clear message: the Security Council is deeply concerned at what is happening in Myanmar at the hands of the military and the so-called ‘state of emergency’ imposed to oppress the people’s calls for peace and democracy,” she added.”
The news received a mixed response from rights groups urging for more action.
President of the Global Justice Center Akila Radhakrishnan responded to the UNSC’s efforts, calling it a “missed an opportunity for more robust action,” but reiterated the urgent need to devise a better plan of action.
“[W]e can’t deny that Council members missed an opportunity for more robust action. Most important was their failure to create a mechanism for regular reporting on the situation in Myanmar. This is a crisis that is continuously evolving and deepening. So it is urgent that Council members treat this resolution as a first step by developing a comprehensive and ongoing plan of action.”
Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the “resolution is a momentous step on behalf of the people of Myanmar, opening the door toward holding Myanmar’s brutal generals to account.”
Pearson added that “the resolution should bring renewed scrutiny to the junta’s daily atrocities and recognition of the Myanmar people’s brave efforts toward democracy and freedom.”