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U.N. adopts resolution condemning Myanmar’s military junta

Myanmar's U.N. ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, addresses the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2019. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution Friday condemning Myanmar’s military leaders and calling for a halt in arms sales to the country.

The move comes after calls for more aggressive action from diplomat Kyaw Moe Tun, who is still recognized by the United Nations as Myanmar’s ambassador, although he was pushed out and charged with treason by his country’s military leaders for refusing to side with the junta that took power in a coup this year.

Tun was present Friday, casting Myanmar’s vote in favor of the resolution condemning the coup leaders.

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The resolution calls on the Myanmar military to respect democratic election results and release political detainees.

The resolution was introduced by Liechtenstein, whose representative warned that there is a “real and present danger of a full-fledged civil war” in Myanmar.

The resolution was adopted after a vote of 119 in favor and 36 abstentions. One country, Belarus, voted against the resolution, citing its “politicized” nature.

Though Myanmar might typically be expected to vote against such a measure, Tun’s ongoing role as a representative of the elected civilian government means Myanmar’s recognized diplomats are calling for sanctions against their own country.

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After the vote, Tun reemphasized his desire for the United Nations and the international community to take the “strongest and most decisive action against the military.”

The ambassador expressed his gratitude for the vote but also his disappointment that it took “almost three months to adopt this watered-down resolution.” He said the resolution did not include arms embargoes, adding that the military is killing civilians with heavy artillery, most of which is imported.

“Selling weapons to the murderous military can be construed … to aid and abet the military to commit serious crimes such as crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide,” Tun said.

Several representatives — including from Bangladesh, Egypt and Iran — said the resolution did not go far enough in comprehensively addressing the root causes of the Rohingya crisis, and abstained.

Others, including Russia, Belarus and China, condemned the “country-specific” nature of the resolution. The representative from Russia said the General Assembly vote blurs lines between U.N. organs.

“Myanmar’s current issues represent a twist and turn in its political transition process. Essentially, it is a domestic issue,” said Geng Shuang, China’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. “History has shown that external blind pressurization or imposition of sanctions on Myanmar is not only ineffective but, quite on the contrary, may aggravate the issue.”

The U.N. Security Council was also set to hold informal talks on the situation in Myanmar on Friday.

At a meeting of the Security Council in April, Tun proposed not only imposing an arms embargo but targeting bank accounts held by military leaders and establishing a no-fly zone over the country.

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While any resolution that passes the General Assembly is nonbinding, it can serve as a politically significant indication of global disapproval.

Though the 15-member Security Council has more power than the General Assembly, China, a permanent member and one of the Myanmar military’s few international allies, can exercise veto power there.