UN rights chief says response to Myanmar crisis ‘ineffectual’

Michelle Bachelet demands quick restoration of civilian rule in the country almost a year after the military takeover.

Almost one year on since the military seized power in the country, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the country’s people had paid a high price in terms of lives and freedoms lost.

Bachelet said that while there had been near-universal condemnation of the coup and ensuing violence, she branded the international response as “ineffectual”, saying it “lacks a sense of urgency commensurate to the magnitude of the crisis”.

“It is time for an urgent, renewed effort to restore human rights and democracy in Myanmar and ensure that perpetrators of systemic human rights violations and abuses are held to account,” she said.

The former Chilean president said the UN Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had not done enough to convince the coup leaders to facilitate humanitarian access.

Bachelet said she had spoken with civil liberties defenders in Myanmar who were pleading with the international community not to abandon them.


“I urge governments – in the region and beyond – as well as businesses, to listen to this plea,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

Myanmar’s military seized power on February 1 last year, ousting the civilian government and arresting its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Bloody crackdown

Since the coup, the military has waged a bloody crackdown on dissent.

The UN Human Rights Office said that since the coup, at least 1,500 people had been killed by the military in a brutal effort to crush dissent, while thousands more would have been killed in the wider armed conflict and violence.

At least 11,787 people have been arbitrarily detained for voicing their opposition to the military, the office said, of whom 8,792 remain in custody.

At least 290 have died in detention, many likely due to the use of torture, it added.

Bachelet said the current crisis was built upon the impunity with which the military leadership waged a campaign of violence against the Rohingya minority four years ago.

“As long as impunity prevails, stability in Myanmar will be a fiction. Accountability of the military remains crucial to any solution going forward — the people overwhelmingly demand this,” she said.

Bachelet’s office is due to publish a report in March detailing the human rights situation in Myanmar since the coup.


Meanwhile, following a closed-door UN briefing on the situation on Myanmar on Friday, China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun said the UN Security Council’s primary goals in Myanmar should be to avoid more violence and civil war.

Zhang said Beijing welcomes the efforts made by Cambodian leader Hun Sen to Myanmar, calling his visit “quite good, quite fruitful,” and saying “we asked them to continue to make further efforts”.

“Some people do not like the kind of situation [now], but I think what we have to also bear in mind is that we should avoid the worsening of the situation, to avoid more violence, to avoid a civil war,” Zhang said.

“That’s the primary goal we should have bearing in our mind.”

He said China also welcomes the appointment of Noeleen Heyzer as the new UN special envoy for Myanmar. She is talking to key parties and has requested to visit Myanmar, he said, and “let’s hope that she can get it done”.


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