More than 200 NGOs call for UN arms embargo on Myanmar

UNITED NATIONS — More than 200 global organizations urged the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar, saying the time for statements has passed and immediate action is needed to help protect peaceful protesters against military rule and other opponents of the junta.

A statement by the non-governmental organizations said the military “has demonstrated a callous disregard for human life” since their Feb. 1 coup, killing at least 769 people including 51 children as young as six years old and detaining several thousand activists, journalists, civil servants and politicians. Hundreds of others have disappeared, it said.

“No government should sell a single bullet to the junta under these circumstances,” the NGOs said. “Imposing a global arms embargo on Myanmar is the minimum necessary step the Security Council should take in response to the military’s escalating violence.”

The organizations urged the United Kingdom, the Security Council nation in charge of drafting resolutions on Myanmar, “to begin negotiations on a resolution authorizing an arms embargo as soon as possible.” This “will demonstrate to the junta that there will be no more business as usual,” they said.

Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country. The coup took place following November elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won overwhelmingly and the military contests as fraudulent.

The 15-member Security Council has issued several statements since the coup demanding the restoration of democracy and the release of all detainees including Suu Kyi, strongly condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians and calling on the military “to exercise utmost restraint” and “on all sides to refrain from violence.”

It has also stressed “the need to fully respect human rights and to pursue dialogue and reconciliation,” and backed diplomatic efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and U.N. special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener to find a solution.

“The time for statements has passed,” the NGOs said. “The Security Council should take its consensus on Myanmar to a new level and agree on immediate and substantive action.”

They said a U.N. global arms embargo against Myanmar should bar the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of “all weapons, munitions, and other military-related equipment, including dual-use goods such as vehicles and communications and surveillance equipment.” Training, intelligence and other military assistance should also be banned, they said.

Amnesty International’s Senior U.N. Advocate Lawrence Moss told a virtual news conference launching the statement that many countries supply weapons to Myanmar.

Citing Amnesty’s research and information from other trusted sources, he said Russia has been supplying combat aircraft and attack helicopters to Myanmar while China has been supplying combat aircraft, naval weapons, armored vehicles, surveillance drones and aiding Myanmar’s indigenous naval industry. In addition, he said, Chinese weapons, small arms and armored vehicles have been diverted to ethnic armed groups, especially the Kachin Independence Army.

Moss said Ukraine has also supplied Myanmar’s military with armored vehicles and is involved in the joint production of armored vehicles in Myanmar, Turkey has provided shotguns and shotgun cartridges, India has provided armored vehicles, troop carriers and naval equipment including a submarine with torpedoes, and Serbia has recorded transfers of small quantities of artillery systems and small arms.

Israel had supplied frigates and armored vehicles to Myanmar along with police training but that stopped in 2017 though it may still be providing surveillance equipment, Moss said. South Korea transferred an amphibious assault system in 2019 but announced a halt to further military exports after the coup.

Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director Louis Charbonneau said: “This is the beginning of what we hope will be an escalation of advocacy to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Security Council, wringing its hands, sticking with inaction and the occasional statement of concern.”

But getting the Security Council to adopt a resolution authorizing an arms embargo faces an uphill struggle, especially with China and Russia’s general opposition to sanctions.

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose country holds the council presidency this month, told a news conference Monday that China is “a friendly neighbor of Myanmar” and is putting more emphasis on diplomatic efforts. It is “not in favor of imposing sanctions” which may hinder diplomacy and lead to suffering of ordinary people, Zhang said.

Amnesty’s Moss countered that an “arms embargo would not hurt the ordinary people of Myanmar in any way, shape or form… and I hope that China will consider that.”

Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, said Myanmar’s “murderous, military-led regime” shouldn’t be allowed to buy bombs or even “camouflage underwear” and “should be treated like the pariahs that they are.”

“I think all of us share concern that the country could become a failed state, armed conflict could intensify, and so an arms embargo now is also a kind of preventive against a refugee crisis that flows across borders in the region, and an armed conflict which serves nobody’s interests,” Adams said.

Myra Dahgaypaw, managing director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma who recalled fleeing from past military airstrikes, said an arms embargo won’t solve all the country’s problems but “it will significantly increase the safety of the people on the ground, including the ethnic and the religious minorities.”

“Today I just want to tell the U.N. Security Council that the people of Burma need your help, and they need it urgently,” she said. “Please don’t let the efforts, the struggle and the resilience of the people on the ground who are trying to survive go in vain.”