February 1, 2021

Burma Campaign UK today called for a robust international response to the military coup in Burma which took place this morning. This should include sanctions against military companies and support for a global arms embargo. The UK already has its own arms embargo.

The Burmese military, led by Min Aung Hlaing, has arrested political leaders and human rights activists, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. State media has been taken off air except for military owned channels. In a statement the military said it has imposed a state of emergency for one year.

All political prisoners should be immediately and unconditionally released.

The military is trying to justify its actions by claiming there was voter fraud in elections in November 2020, when the military political party, the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDP), suffered a crushing defeat to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

“The military were allowed to get away with genocide of the Rohingya and must not also be allowed to also get away with this coup,” said Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK.

Recommendations by a United Nations Fact-Finding Mission into human rights violations against the Rohingya and other ethnic groups in Burma have largely been ignored by the international community. These recommendations included referring the situation in Burma to the International Criminal Court, sanctioning military companies and a global arms embargo. The only sanction the UK has imposed on the military for genocide of the Rohingya has been to ban sixteen members of the military from taking holidays in the UK.

The announcement that the military will take power for one year is probably designed in part to give governments around the world an excuse not to act. Governments, and institutions such as the European Commission, which are traditionally soft on human rights in Burma, often use the ‘wait and see’ line instead of acting to defend human rights.

The military coup represents a major change in strategy by the military. The 2008 Constitution was designed by the military to protect their interests in the knowledge that the NLD would win elections. The military have benefitted significantly from the new political system they created, seeing sanctions lifted and big increases in their budget. They have been on a spending spree including buying new aircraft, ships and artillery.

The coup is likely to lead to renewed international sanctions and protests within Burma. It is hard to see how the military as an institution can benefit from the coup. It is more likely about the personal ambitions of Min Aung Hlaing, who is required to retire in June. The coup could allow him to continue in his role, as well as being able to protect significant business interests his family have accrued thanks to his position as military head.

The coup takes place in a context where the international community has failed to take any significant action in response to ongoing human rights violations in ethnic states in recent years, not just against the Rohingya. The British government has refused to impose sanctions on military companies.

“Every tool available needs to be deployed to pressure the military,” said Anna Roberts. “The British government must now move quickly to sanction military companies, join the genocide case at the International Court of Justice, and build a coalition of countries willing to impose arms embargoes.”


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