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Myanmar under pressure at UN

The UN’s top rights body demanded Friday that Myanmar’s military restore civilian rule and immediately release Aung San Suu Kyi.In a resolution adopted without a vote, the 47-member Human Rights Council called for “the immediate and unconditional release of all persons arbitrarily detained,” and “the restoration of the elected government.” Traditional allies of the Myanmar military, China and Russia, meanwhile disassociated themselves from the consensus, as did Venezuela, Bolivia and the Philippines.During a relatively rare special session of the council Friday, most UN officials and diplomats voiced alarm at the February 1 coup and the brutal response to some of the massive protests rocking the country.The session, urgently requested earlier this week by Britain and the European Union, came as a torrent of anger and defiance sparked a seventh straight day of nationwide rallies demanding the country’s generals relinquish power. “The world is watching,” the UN’s deputy rights chief Nada al-Nashif stressed at the start of the session.She decried the detention of Suu Kyi and the rest of Myanmar’s elected leaders, and of more than 350 others, including officials, activists, journalists, monks and students.In addition, she lamented, “draconian orders have been issued this week to prevent peaceful assembly and free expression”.- ‘Unacceptable’ -“Let us be clear: the indiscriminate use of lethal or less-than-lethal weapons against peaceful protesters is unacceptable,” said al-Nashif.Min Aung Hlaing, the head of Myanmar’s army, known as Tatmadaw, has justified his coup by alleging widespread voter fraud during November’s election. And Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Myint Thu, insisted to the council Friday that “in light of the post-election irregularities… Tatmadaw was compelled to take the state responsibilities”.He said the country looked “forward to receiving better understanding… and constructive engagement and cooperation from the international community”.Several countries came to Myanmar’s defence, and slammed Friday’s session as interference in “Myanmar’s internal affairs”.But most diplomats taking part in the session spoke out strongly against the coup, mass detentions and use of force against some protesters.”This unacceptable and illegitimate seizure of power abruptly turned back the clock of history in Myanmar,” Portugal’s ambassador Rui Macieira said, speaking on behalf of the EU.The United States, which only re-engaged with the council this week after former president Donald Trump withdrew in 2018, also harshly condemned the coup.US diplomat Mark Cassayre said all those “unjustly detained” should be released, and called for “accountability for those responsible for the coup, including through targeted sanctions”.President Joe Biden announced this week that his administration was cutting off the military’s access to $1 billion in funds, with sanctions targeting Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals.- ‘Complicit’ -Al-Nashif voiced concern over sanctions imposed in the wake of the coup.”Any sanctions under consideration should be carefully targeted against specific individuals who are credibly alleged to have violated the people’s rights,” she said.”Leaders of this coup are an appropriate focus of such actions,” she said, adding that “it is of critical importance that no harm should be inflicted on the most vulnerable people in the country”.The adopted resolution was watered down from previous versions after intense negotiations, with backers of the text eager to secure the broadest support possible.It did not mention sanctions, but urged Myanmar’s military to take immediate steps to protect people’s rights in the country, and to “ensure that members of civil society organisations and the media are able to operate freely and without fear of violence, harassment or intimidation.”And it calls for the “immediate lifting of restrictions on the Internet, telecommunication and social media,” as well as “safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need.”The text also urged the UN rights chief and the body’s top expert on the situation in Myanmar to assess the situation and provide reports to the council.

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