UN recognition of Myanmar junta will undermine moral credibility of global body
Nine months ago Myanmar witnessed the end of what was still the beginning of a slow transition to democracy. Early on the morning of February 1, General Min Aung Hlaing and his fellow generals seized power in a well-orchestrated coup. Shortly after, the junta began to deploy a campaign of repression and violence. If history is any indicator of what to expect, the worst is yet to come.
As we prepare for this dangerous and uncertain future, United Nations diplomats are weighing a decision with massive implications for international action against the coup. The junta demands recognition as the official representative of Myanmar, despite its illegitimacy and crimes against its own people. The United States and China reportedly struck a deal that silenced Myanmar’s current representative Kyaw Moe Tun during high-level speeches in September at the United Nations General Assembly. However, the issue of military recognition seems far from settled. The United Nations body responsible for decisions on official representation, the Credentials Committee, is due to meet on December 1. The committee is made up of the United States, China and Russia as well as six other countries.
Here’s what we know: The Burmese people are tired of diplomatic compromises. They urge the UN to reject the military junta in all its forms. It is a regime that stole the general elections of November 2020 in which the National League for Democracy won a landslide crushing. His bloody and illegal reign should not be rewarded by human rights bodies like the United Nations.
For more than seven decades, the Burmese military has waged civil war in several ethnic states in the country, with human rights violations affecting ethnic people across the country. This includes widespread and systematic sexual violence against ethnic women, which constitutes crimes against humanity under international human rights law. In the case of the Rohingyas, this is proof of genocide.
The military uses rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war to demoralize and destroy ethnic communities. These crimes are more than isolated and random acts of rogue soldiers, and their widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern. Impunity for these crimes is systematically entrenched, forcing ethnic women to live with their trauma and continue without justice, accountability, counseling or adequate resources. As a result of campaigns against ethnic groups, the number of internally displaced people and refugees continues to rise near the borders of Thailand, China and Bangladesh.
Since the February coup, more than 1,158 innocent civilians, including at least 82 women, have been killed. To further crush the resistance, the junta began to expand its military operations into ethnic areas, where conflict has raged for decades. The resumption of fighting caused a real humanitarian catastrophe. In Karenni state, the military opened fire on an aid vehicle carrying food and medicine for the displaced. Faced with food and medicine shortages, internally displaced people in Karenni and Chin states asked for help from volunteers. In one case, the junta intercepted and arrested a volunteer before destroying a shipment of food and medicine. With no other option, people flock to the refugee camps, where diarrhea and malaria are rampant.
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It is estimated that at least three million people in Myanmar are in need of critical support, including shelter, food, health care and protection from violence. Without an adequate response that holds the junta accountable for blocking aid routes and destroying donated materials, the livelihoods of the most vulnerable will worsen.
There are terrifying reports of women arrested by the military and subjected to excruciating sexual assault, torture and other physical and verbal abuse. Security forces also coerced women into having sex in exchange for removing their names from warrant lists. Many women who actively resist the military have been killed as punishment for their work. Women and young people have also committed suicide to avoid arrest because of the likelihood of being tortured during interrogation.
If direct military abuse weren’t enough, a third wave of Covid-19 began to ravage the country soon after the coup. When the military took power, they also seized Covid vaccines. Evidence continues to mount that the military is arming the pandemic to advance the goal of eliminating peaceful protectors. The junta recently blocked an international plan to administer vaccines to civilians through civil society and ethnic health organizations.
In the months following the coup, the UN condemned the junta’s use of lethal force. He also echoed support for an immediate end to arms sales in Myanmar and called for a process of reconciliation. But these efforts are not enough to ensure that the junta ends its war against its own people and is held accountable.
If the UN Credentials Committee formally recognized the junta, however, it would risk irreversible damage to the concerted cause of peace and justice by the people of Myanmar. More importantly, it would destroy the moral conscience of the United Nations in the eyes of the people. Worse, it would signal to the junta that it is untouchable. The committee must do the right thing or risk further eroding the human rights situation on the ground.