UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Security Council members approved a statement Wednesday calling for a reversal of the military coup in Myanmar and strongly condemning the violence against peaceful protesters and calling for “utmost restraint” by the military, three council diplomats said.
The diplomats, who said the presidential statement had been approved by all 15 council members including Myanmar’s neighbor and friend China, spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of its official adoption at a council meeting expected later Wednesday. A presidential statement is a step below a resolution but becomes part of the official record of the U.N.’s most powerful body.
The British-drafted statement, obtained by The Associated Press, calls for the immediate release of government leaders including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint who have been detained since the Feb. 1 military coup.
It supports the country’s democratic transition and “stresses the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and uphold the rule of law.”
The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades 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 power after 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country.
Opposition to the coup is being spearheaded by young people who lived in freedom for 10 years and has wide support throughout the country from civil servants, railway workers who were targeted Wednesday, Buddhist monks, and people of all classes and ages.
Security forces have responded with mass arrests and at times lethal force. At least 60 protesters have been killed since the military takeover, according to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Authorities have also moved to shut down independent reporting, both through arrests of journalists and the closure of media outlets — but the protests have continued despite the crackdowns and increasingly violent tactics of security forces.
The statement which all council members agreed to on Wednesday is weaker than the initial draft circulated by the United Kingdom which would have condemned the military coup in Myanmar and threatened “possible measures under the U.N. Charter” — U.N. language for sanctions — “should the situation deteriorate further.”
Diplomats said council members China, Russia, India, which is also a neighbor of Myanmar, and Vietnam, which is a member of the 10-nations Association of Southeast Asian Nations known as ASEAN, along with Myanmar, objected to provisions in earlier drafts of the statement.
Nonetheless, it will be the first presidential statement on Myanmar adopted since 2017 and reflects council unity in trying to reverse the coup.
The statement also “highlights that the current situation has the potential to exacerbate existing challenges in Rakhine state,” where a military crackdown in 2017 involving mass rape, murders and the torching of villages led more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, as well as in other regions.
It expresses concern that “recent developments pose particular serious challenges for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons.”
“It is vital that the rights of minorities are fully protected,” the statement stressed.
It encourages the pursuit of “constructive dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.”
The statement commends ASEAN’s continuing efforts “to engage with all relevant parties in Myanmar.”
It calls for “safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need.”
It reiterates support for U.N. special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener and encourages her efforts to maintain communication and “engage intensively with all relevant parties in Myanmar, and to visit Myanmar as soon as possible.”
Schraner Burgener, who has an office in the capital, Naypyitaw, said last week the military told her the time isn’t right yet for a visit.
She said she doesn’t have “the solution on the silver plate” but she has some ideas, which she didn’t disclose, that she wants to discuss with the military, Suu Kyi, ousted parliamentarians and others.