The UN deputy human rights chief and the independent expert on Myanmar have called for targeted sanctions against the leaders of what they both described as the coup that took place in the country last week, as the Human Rights Council met in special session on Friday to discuss the ongoing crisis. 

In a detailed account of the unfolding situation following the military takeover on 1 February, Special Rapporteur Andrews outlined the backdrop against which the civilian government was overthrown, the people’s response, and the “junta’s repressive actions”. 

He started by stressing that the very act of convening the special session underscored the gravity with which the HRC viewed “what can aptly be described as an outrageous and illegal act – a coup d’état of a duly elected government and its duly elected leaders”. 

“Day after day now, the people of Myanmar, and people around the world, have watched with horror at the photos and videos of brutality emerging from the streets of Myanmar – from large columns of security forces in full riot gear surrounding peaceful protesters and water cannons being fired into growing crowds, to protesters being shot, including a young woman shot in the head as she stood, unarmed and posing no threat, with other peaceful protesters in [the capital] Nay Pyi Taw.” 

There are also reports of use of live ammunition and lethal force against demonstrators, increased arbitrary detentions and intimidation, threat to the media, and instituting of regulations and laws that systematically strip away rights, access to information and privacy.  

Some 220 government officials and members of civil society, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and members of the Union Election Commission, have been detained, many of whom were taken in “the dark of night and many times by plain-clothed police”, he added, citing reports. 

UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferre
UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada al-Nashif. (file photo)

Mr. Andrews called for action by the Human Rights Council (HRC), reading out a message he received from an activist in Myanmar, who is in hiding. 

“He asked me to respectfully pass on these exact words to this body: ‘We need more than a statement on a piece paper; we need real action from the United Nations.’” 

Mr. Andrews called on the HRC to urge the Security Council “to consider all of the options it has previously used to deal with gross human rights violations”, including sanctions, arms embargos, and travel bans, and calling for judicial action at the International Criminal Court (ICC) or ad hoc tribunals. 

“All of these options should be on the table.” 

“Barring concrete steps from the Security Council, the General Assembly can convene an Emergency Special Session. During past emergency special sessions, the General Assembly has recommended actions ranging from ceasefires to arms embargoes to trade sanctions”, he added. 

Ms. al-Nashif also voiced concerns for the members of the minority, mainly Muslim, Rohingya community who in the past have faced violent persecution by the military. 

“The military authorities must not be allowed to exacerbate the situation of the Rohingya people, after the extreme violence and decades of discrimination that they have endured,” she said, underlining that 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.” 

In 2017, over 700,000 Rohingyas were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge across the border, in Bangladesh, following widespread attacks by Myanmar’s security forces, in retaliation for attacks on remote police outposts by armed groups alleged to belong to the community. 

Myanmar crisis: ‘All options should be on the table’, UN Human Rights Council hears

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