In mid-June, the United Nations General Assembly urged member countries to halt arms transfers to Myanmar. It’s now up to the UN Security Council to formally impose a global arms embargo on the military junta that took power in a February 1 coup to help end the massive human rights abuses by the country’s security forces.
The General Assembly’s June 18 resolution received 119 votes in favor. The only state to vote against it was Belarus, a serial rights-abuser. After months of negotiation, the resolution offered a strong condemnation of the coup from the UN’s most representative body and sent a clear message to Myanmar’s junta that the majority of governments are outraged by its abuses.
That message stands in sharp contrast to the Security Council’s failure to do more than issue three statements calling for the release of political prisoners and an end to the violence.
Since the coup, security forces in Myanmar have killed nearly 900 people, including dozens of children, and detained more than 6,000 people. Human Rights Watch and more than 200 other organizations have called on the Security Council to impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, has warned that Myanmar could become another Syria.
As the Security Council’s designated “penholder” on Myanmar texts, the United Kingdom has for years taken an overly cautious approach to Myanmar at the council, focusing on anodyne statements instead of pushing substantive measures like an arms embargo. At the same time, the UK government has joined other governments in imposing its own sanctions on Myanmar’s military and entities linked to it.
Council diplomats cite fears of a Chinese veto as one reason for not circulating a draft arms embargo resolution. Their concerns are not unfounded. But China was among the 36 countries that abstained in the General Assembly’s vote. Also, most members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) voted in favor, including current Security Council member Vietnam.
Equipped with the public endorsement of the General Assembly, council members that want to reverse the deteriorating human rights situation in Myanmar have no more excuses for inaction. They should draft a legally binding resolution requiring states to halt arms sales and take on this human rights crisis with the urgency it deserves.