In a rare move, the UN General Assembly on Friday condemned Myanmar’s military coup and called for an arm 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 UN 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.
UN special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener warned the General Assembly after the vote that “the risk of a large-scale civil war (is) real.”
“Time is of the essence,” she said. “The opportunity to reverse the military takeover is narrowing and regional threat increasing.”
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 Association of Southeast Asian Nations known as ASEAN, which includes Myanmar.
A UN diplomat said there was an agreement with ASEAN to seek consensus. But in the vote, its members were divided. Myanmar, whose UN ambassador supports the ousted democratic government, voted “yes” along with Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines while Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Brunei abstained.
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 under arrest along with many government leaders and politicians, as well as strong opposition to the military crackdown on protesters demanding an end to the army’s takeover.
The resolution’s approval follows calls for more aggressive UN action by many countries and Myanmar’s UN Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, who has been charged with treason by the military junta. He urged the international community “to take the strongest possible action to immediately end the military coup.”
The more powerful UN Security Council, whose resolutions are legally binding, has adopted several statements on Myanmar, including condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters, calling on the military to restore the democratic transition and “exercise utmost restraint” and “on all sides to refrain from violence.” But it has never been able to condemn the coup or authorize an arms embargo or other sanctions because of an almost-certain veto by China, and possibly Russia.
The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country. The coup took place following November elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won overwhelmingly and the military contends were marred by fraud.
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.”