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UN Rights Expert: International Response to Myanmar Coup Must Be Unequivocal

A Myanmar soldier looks on as he stands inside city hall after soldiers occupied the building, in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 2, 2021.
A Myanmar soldier looks on as he stands inside city hall after soldiers occupied the building, in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 2, 2021.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tom Andrews said Tuesday the military takeover in that country is "unacceptable" and requires a strong and unequivocal international response.

"This is about an assault on an entire people. It's outrageous," Andrews told VOA. "And the international community should respond directly, forcefully and responsibly."

Myanmar's military, the Tatmadaw, seized power Monday, declaring a yearlong state of emergency and detaining de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, among others.

The power grab took place following days of tension between the military and the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the November elections. The Tatmadaw has refused to accept the results, alleging massive election fraud.

Andrews, an independent human rights expert whose mandate comes from the U.N. Human Rights Council, called the Tatmadaw's fraud allegations "unsubstantiated" and "absurd."

"It's one thing to have concerns about an election," he said. "Most elections, people have concerns with. But you don't overthrow a country because you have concerns about the election."

He said such behavior requires a strong, unified international response so the generals understand there is a price to pay for their actions.

"I'd like to see the international community consider a full range of options, including sanctions — targeted economic sanctions," the special rapporteur said. "They can have an impact on those who are responsible for this outrage — an arms embargo and steps that will have an impact, not just in terms of what we say, but even more importantly, what we do."

He noted that such measures have been effective on the military leaders in the past and gradually brought change, and if they are strong enough now, could do so again.

"But in fact, just as before, I think that they (the generals) are very vulnerable to international not only words, but action, and that what the international community does in terms of economic pressure, economic sanctions, will in fact make a difference," Andrews said.

The special rapporteur said he was glad the U.N. Security Council met Tuesday to discuss the situation, and he urged a strong international response by all nations, as well as accountability.

"This is about the theft of a democracy from a people," Andrews said.

The council's meeting took place in private. They were briefed by the U.N. secretary-general's special representative on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who condemned the coup and urged the Security Council "to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar," according to her prepared remarks.

She called on the council to press for restraint and calm, while upholding human rights and international law. She also appealed for council support for greater access for the United Nations, which has a large humanitarian presence in the country.

"At this point in time, we must ensure the protection of the people of Myanmar and their fundamental rights," Schraner Burgener said. "We must do everything to prevent violence from breaking out."

She said the election was a "landslide victory" for the NLD, giving Aung San Suu Kyi's party a "strong renewed mandate" to continue on the path of democratic reform.

The NLD won 396 of the 498 seats up for election in both chambers of Parliament.

Schraner Burgener said the declaration of the state of emergency and the arrest of civilian leadership are unconstitutional and illegal. She also said the military's call to repeat the elections "should be discouraged."