UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council approved its first-ever resolution on Myanmar on Wednesday, demanding an immediate end to violence in the Southeast Asian nation and urging its military rulers to release all “arbitrarily detained” prisoners including ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and to restore democratic institutions.
The resolution reiterated the call by the 15-member council for the country’s opposing parties to pursue dialogue and reconciliation and urged all sides “to respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”
The council vote was 12-0 with three abstentions, China, Russia and India.
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward, whose country sponsored the resolution, said it is the first adopted by the U.N.’s most powerful body since the country, formerly known as Burma, joined the United Nations in 1948.
It is the result of the military overturning the results of a democratic election and seizing power on Feb. 1, 2021, plunging the country into a series of cascading crises with “negative consequences for the region and its stability,” she said.
“Today we’ve sent a firm message to the military, that there should be a no doubt we expect this resolution to be implemented in full,” Woodward said. “We stand with the people of Myanmar. It is time for the junta to return the country to them.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken applauded the adoption of the resolution as an important step but said the Council had more work to do “to advance a just solution” to the crisis.
“The Security Council should leverage this opportunity to seek additional ways to promote a return to the path of democracy, advance accountability for the regime’s actions, and support ASEAN’s efforts to achieve meaningful implementation of the Five Point Consensus,” he said in a statement, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ plan to restore peace and stability.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres remains “extremely concerned” about the deteriorating humanitarian situation and human rights in Myanmar. “We welcome this strong message from the Security Council,” he told AP.
For five decades Myanmar had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections and moves toward democracy, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country.
That ended with the military takeover on the day Parliament was to reconvene following November 2020 elections which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won overwhelmingly — an outcome the military claims without evidence was based on fraud.
The takeover was met with massive public opposition, which has since turned into armed resistance that some U.N. experts have characterized as civil war.
Last month, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights monitoring organization, said over 16,000 people had been detained on political charges in Myanmar since the army takeover. Of those arrested, more than 13,000 were still in detention. The association said at least 2,465 civilians had been killed since the 2021 takeover, although the number is thought to be far higher.
Much of the international community, including Myanmar’s fellow ASEAN members, have expressed frustration at the generals’ hard line in resisting reform. Myanmar’s rulers agreed to ASEAN’s plan in April 2021 but have made little effort to implement it.
The plan calls for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among all concerned parties, mediation of the dialogue process by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid through ASEAN channels and a visit to Myanmar by the association’s special envoy to meet all concerned parties. Current U.N. special envoy Noeleen Heyzer and ASEAN special envoy Prak Sokhonn, a Cambodian minister, have both visited Myanmar but neither was allowed to meet Suu Kyi.
The resolution “acknowledges ASEAN’s central role in helping to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Myanmar” and encourages the international community to support ASEAN’s efforts, including in implementing the five-point consensus.
Noting that Myanmar’s military committed to supporting the five-point consensus, the U.N. resolution calls for immediate action to implement it and urges all parties in Myanmar to work on starting a dialogue aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis. It also underlines the need “for a peaceful, genuine and inclusive process to de-escalate violence and reach a sustainable political resolution.”
The resolution also expresses “deep concern” at the ongoing state of emergency imposed by the military, the arrest of Suu Kyi and former president Win Myint who should be released immediately, and at “the increasingly large numbers of internally displaced persons and dramatic increase in humanitarian need.” It reiterates the council’s condemnation of the execution of activists in July.
Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The Security Council resolution is a momentous step on behalf of the people of Myanmar, opening the door toward holding Myanmar’s brutal generals to account.”
But Tom Andrews, the independent U.N. special investigator on Myanmar, tweeted that as well-meaning as the resolution is, “without consequences” in the resolution “these important sentiments will not stop the junta from attacking and destroying the lives of the 54 million in Myanmar.”
Since the Security Council won’t authorize action against the military, he said, “those nations who support the people of Myanmar must immediately step forward with coordinated action to end the carnage.”
Britain’s Woodward said the resolution was the result of many weeks of consultations with members of the council and ASEAN and key regional partners. Diplomats said the final negotiations were between Britain and China, Myanmar’s neighbor and ally.
Louis Charbonneau, Human Rights Watch’s U.N. director, said: “China and Russia’s abstentions signal that even the junta’s few friends have lost interest in sticking out their necks to defend its atrocities.”
China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said he abstained because the resolution’s “tone still lacks balance.”
Stressing that China’s “policy of friendship towards Myanmar is for all its people,” he said “there is no quick fix” to the current crisis which requires all parties and factions to pursue dialogue and achieve political reconciliation.
“Neither democratic transition nor national reconciliation can be achieved overnight, and both require time, patience, and pragmatism,” Zhang said. He urged the international community to listen to ASEAN’s views and allow time for ASEAN to build consensus.
On another Myanmar issue, the resolution underscored the need to address the crisis in Rakhine state and to create conditions for the return of Rohingya Muslims who were chased out of the Buddhist-majority country and now live as refugees in neighboring Bangladesh and elsewhere.