The UN’s top human rights body has opened an urgent session to discuss the military coup in Myanmar, with calls for the release of people “arbitrarily detained” — including civilian government leader Aung San Suu Kyi — and more action by United Nations officials to increase scrutiny of the country.
The Human Rights Council has no power to impose sanctions but can train a potent political spotlight on rights abuses and violations.
Friday’s session comes shortly after the Biden administration, which has already imposed sanctions on coup leaders, revived US participation at the 47-member Geneva body.
“The seizure of power by the Myanmar military earlier this month constitutes a profound setback for the country after a decade of hard-won gains in its democratic transition,” said the deputy high commissioner for human rights Nada al-Nashif.
A draft resolution, presented by the UK and the EU, calls for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Ms Suu Kyi and other senior officials in her government, a lifting of restrictions on the internet and unimpeded humanitarian access, among other things.
The resolution also calls on UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres and the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, to give the independent UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, “increased assistance, resources and expertise” to carry out his job.
“We need real action from the United Nations,” said Mr Andrews in a video message, citing information that the junta has detained 220 government officials and members of civil society.
“The message from the people of Myanmar to all of you and to the people of the world is clear: this cannot stand,” he said. Mr Andrews has been seeking the right to visit Myanmar, which its government has denied.
General Min Aung Hlaing’s coup on February 1 ousted the civilian government of Nobel laureate Ms Suu Kyi and prevented recently elected legislators from opening a new session of parliament. It reversed nearly a decade of progress toward democracy following 50 years of military rule, and has led to widespread protests.
The military has said it was forced to step in because Ms Suu Kyi’s government failed to properly investigate allegations of fraud in November elections, though the election commission has said there is no evidence to support the claims.
It comes after Min Aung Hlaing used the country’s Union Day holiday to call on people to work with the military if they want democracy.
He said: “I would seriously urge the entire nation to join hands with the Tatmadaw (the military) for the successful realisation of democracy.
“Historical lessons have taught us that only national unity can ensure the non-disintegration of the union and the perpetuation of sovereignty.”
The new junta also announced it would mark Union Day by releasing thousands of prisoners and reducing other inmates’ sentences.
Protests against the coup – now daily occurrences in Myanmar’s two largest cities, Yangon and Mandalay – have drawn people from all walks of life, despite an official ban on gatherings of more than five people.
Factory workers and civil servants, students and teachers, medical personnel and people from LGBTQ communities, Buddhist monks and Catholic clergy have all come out in force.
A draft cybersecurity law due to be implemented in Myanmar has raised protests that it will be used to quash dissent rather than protect privacy.
Human rights advocates issued statements on Friday urging the junta to drop the plan and end internet disruptions that have intensified since the coup.
The draft law shows the military’s intent to “permanently undermine internet freedom in the country,” said Matthew Bugher, head of the Asia programme for the group Article 19, which issued a statement condemning the plan, along with the Open Net Association and the International Commission of Jurists.
Internet service providers and others were given until Monday to respond to the proposed law.