The UN has issued a rare call for an end to arms sales to Myanmar in response to this year’s violent military coup.
The General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the military junta that overthrew the country’s elected government in February.
The UN also called for the release of political prisoners, such as elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and for an end to violence against peaceful protesters.
While not legally binding, the resolution is politically important. “The risk of a full-scale civil war is real,” UN Special Envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener told the General Assembly.
“Time is of the essence. The chances of undoing the military takeover are getting smaller and smaller.”
It was supported by 119 countries, with Belarus being the only one against it. Another 36 countries abstained, including Russia and China, Myanmar’s two largest arms suppliers.
Some of the abstainers said the crisis was an internal issue for Myanmar, while others said the resolution did not address a brutal military crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim population four years ago, forcing nearly a million people to flee the country.
The EU’s UN ambassador, Olof Skoog, said the resolution “delegitimizes the military junta, condemns its abuse and violence against its own people and demonstrates its isolation in the eyes of the world”.
But Myanmar’s UN ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, who represents the country’s elected civilian government, said he was disappointed at the time it took the General Assembly to pass what he called a “watered-down” resolution.
Suu Kyi, 75, has been under house arrest since the coup and little has been seen or heard from her, other than brief court hearings. The military justified the seizure of power in February, alleging voter fraud in last November’s general election.
But independent election monitors say the elections were largely free and fair and the charges against Ms Suu Kyi were widely criticized as politically motivated.
The coup sparked widespread demonstrations and Myanmar’s military has brutally cracked down on pro-democracy protesters, activists and journalists.
According to the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), security forces have so far killed more than 860 people and detained nearly 5,000.
Last month, Human Rights Watch had urged the UN General Assembly to pass a resolution calling for an arms embargo, stating that “While such a resolution is not legally binding on states, it would carry significant political weight.
“Governments should recognize that weapons sold to Myanmar’s military are likely to be used to abuse the population,” the organization added. “Weapons embargoes can help prevent such crimes.”
Myanmar in profile.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, gained independence from Great Britain in 1948. It has been under military rule for most of its modern history.
Restrictions began to be eased from 2010, leading to free elections in 2015 and the installation of a government led by veteran opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi the following year.
Myanmar’s military over attacks by Rohingya militants on the police in a deadly manner, driving more than half a million Rohingya Muslims across the border into Bangladesh in what the UN later called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.