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Demonstrators pose with a banner showing the symbolic three-finger salute and names of those killed during protests since the military coup, Yangon, Myanmar on April 11, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo

By Widad Franco

The United Nations Security Council, entrusted by the UN Charter to be the world’s guardian of international peace and security, has done little to help the people of Myanmar besides issuing statements asking the junta to end the violence and release prisoners. But the UN General Assembly can help motivate the council take action to stem the rampant abuses.

In the absence of robust Security Council action, the 193-nation General Assembly should adopt a resolution condemning the junta’s rights violations and calling on all UN members to halt arms transfers to Myanmar. While not legally binding on states, such a resolution would carry significant political weight. As the UN’s most representative body, it would send a powerful signal to the junta and press members of the Security Council to adopt a legally binding resolution – as recently urged by a group of 205 nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch.

Governments should recognize that arms and materiel sold to Myanmar’s military will likely be used to commit abuses against the population. Arms embargoes can help prevent such crimes, a possibility recently highlighted by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet who warned Myanmar could escalate into a “full-blown conflict” like in Syria. 

Last week, a scheduled vote on a draft resolution circulated by Liechtenstein calling “for an immediate suspension of the direct and indirect supply, sale or transfer of all weapons and munitions” to Myanmar was postponed. A vote could come as early as this week, though a revised version by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) removes mention of suspending arms sales.

The United States, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and other sponsor countries should work with Liechtenstein to ensure a vote is rescheduled as soon as possible, with the language on halting arms sales. They should not play the game of saying this is a regional issue and hiding behind ASEAN to avoid their own responsibilities; ASEAN is built on the principle of noninterference and will never deliver on Myanmar. Instead, they should lobby UN members to ensure a robust resolution receives support from the General Assembly. Concerned governments should then use the resolution to press the Security Council to act.

Inaction by UN member states will only embolden Myanmar’s military and encourage more abuses. General Assembly action is needed now.


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