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Civil Society Groups Urge UN Arms Embargo on Myanmar

This handout photo taken and released by Dawei Watch on May 5, 2021, shows protesters holding signs during a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei, Myanmar.
This handout photo taken and released by Dawei Watch on May 5, 2021, shows protesters holding signs during a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei, Myanmar.

More than 200 civil society and human rights groups from around the world have called on the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo against Myanmar, in hopes of preventing the military from carrying out more murders and atrocities.

“The U.N. Security Council’s failure to even discuss an arms embargo against the junta is an appalling abdication of its responsibilities toward the people of Myanmar,” Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, told reporters Wednesday in a call with some of the groups that signed the letter. “The council’s occasional statements of concern in the face of the military’s violent repression of largely peaceful protesters [are] the diplomatic equivalent of shrugging their shoulders and walking away.”

The council has issued four statements of concern since the military launched a coup on February 1, ousting the civilian-led government and detaining several of its members in a dispute over who won the November elections. On April 24, regional bloc ASEAN convened a summit on the situation, issuing a five-point communique.

More than 760 civilians killed

But the generals in Myanmar have ignored both bodies and continue to use violence to try to suppress the protests, as well as attacks, including airstrikes, on armed ethnic groups. Rights monitors say more than 760 civilians have been killed, including 51 children, and more than 4,600 others have been arrested in the ensuing crackdown.

“The Burmese military has proven that they are immune to the condemnations, and therefore only tangible actions in this situation are going to help,” said Myra Dahgaypaw, managing director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. Myanmar is also known as Burma.

Britain holds the portfolio for Myanmar on the 15-nation council but has hesitated to circulate a draft resolution among members, fearing a Chinese and Russian veto, diplomats and advocates say. Instead, they have tried to keep the council united behind the statements, which require consensus, but have not improved the situation.

“The longer this goes on, where the council is obviously unwilling to adopt a resolution or to even debate a resolution for fear of veto, sends a signal of impunity,” said Lawrence Moss, senior U.N. advocate at Amnesty International. “At this point, the Myanmar military must know there has been no resolution, because the U.K. is unwilling to table one.”

At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, who represents the civilian government, reiterated his call for an immediate global arms embargo, as well as other measures against the military.

“We are all living under fear,” Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun told U.S. lawmakers.

U.N. Special Rapporteur for Myanmar Tom Andrews has been calling for an arms embargo since the start of the crisis, and U.N. Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener has urged targeted sanctions.

China has a lot at stake in Myanmar. It shares an 1,800-kilometer border with the country and has investments there. Stability is in Beijing’s interest, but it has hesitated to rein in the generals, calling for more diplomacy despite its growing concerns.

“And then with further escalation of the tension, there will be more confrontation,” China U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters this week of what an escalation could mean. “And with more confrontation, there will be more violence. And with more violence, there will be more casualties. And then we may go further down the wrong direction. It may also mean a chaotic situation in Myanmar — even a civil war.”

Military hardware suppliers

Amnesty International’s Moss said a number of countries provide military hardware and training to Myanmar, including China, which supplies combat aircraft, surveillance drones and armored vehicles. Russia provides combat aircraft and attack helicopters. Ukraine has supplied armored vehicles and is involved in the joint production of them in Myanmar. Turkey has sold shotguns and cartridges to the military, while India has supplied armored vehicles, troop carriers and even a submarine.

“The arms embargo will not solve all the problems that Burma has,” said Dahgaypaw of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. “But I also know it will significantly increase the safety of the people on the ground, including the ethnic and religious minorities.”