The UN’s top human rights body has passed a consensus resolution urging military leaders in Myanmar to immediately release Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian government leaders detained after a military coup, while watering down an initial draft text amid pressure led by China and Russia.
In a special session at the Human Rights Council, the original resolution presented by Britain and the European Union was revised to remove calls to bolster the ability of a UN rights expert to scrutinise Myanmar and for restraint from the country’s military.
After the updated resolution passed with no opposition, Chinese ambassador Chen Xu thanked the sponsors for “adopting our recommendations” but said Beijing still was distancing itself from the measure.
The sponsors of Human Rights Council resolutions often agree to soften the language of their texts to win consensus and to show the 47-member body based in Geneva is united on thorny issues.
The council has no power to impose sanctions but can train a political spotlight on rights abuses and violations.
Friday’s session came shortly after the Biden administration, which has already imposed sanctions on leaders of the Myanmar coup, revived US participation in the Human Rights Council, which the Trump administration pulled the country out of in 2018.
While China and Russia opposed attempts to politicise the situation in Myanmar and called it a domestic matter, many Western countries, the UN human rights office and others condemned the coup and said a state of emergency must end.
“The seizure of power by the Myanmar military earlier this month constitutes a profound setback for the country after a decade of hard-won gains in its democratic transition,” deputy high commissioner for human rights Nada al-Nashif said. “The world is watching.”
The resolution called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Ms Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and other senior officials in the government, a lifting of internet restrictions and unimpeded humanitarian access. It also pressed for continued observation of the human rights situation.
But the revised text excised a call on UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres and the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, to give the independent UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, “increased assistance, resources and expertise” to carry out his job.
The initial wording that urged the military to “exercise utmost restraint” was altered to stress “the need to refrain from violence and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law”, with no reference to the military.
The amended text also removed calls for “full co-operation” and “full and unrestricted access” for independent UN rights experts.
“We need real action from the United Nations,” Mr Andrews said in a video message during the session, citing information that the military junta in Myanmar had detained 220 government officials and civil society members.
“The message from the people of Myanmar to all of you and to the people of the world is clear: this cannot stand,” he said. Mr Andrews has been seeking the right to visit Myanmar, which its government has denied.