Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar has called on the international community to express outrage at Myanmar’s military for this week’s coup d’état.
The military, called the Tatmadaw in Burmese, in one swift action overturned more than a decade of hard-won progress toward democratic development in Myanmar on unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. Many people in Myanmar have taken to beating on pots and pans in protest of the coup.
While the response from the international community in the days since the coup has been overwhelmingly supportive of democracy in Myanmar, the UN Security Council was unable to issue a clear statement condemning the Tatmadaw’s seizure of power as China and Russia pose obstacles to such a declaration.
Further complications could arise because State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who was deposed by the coup, had been the target of international criticism for defending the military against allegations of crimes against humanity against Rohingya Muslims. Additionally, recent moves toward peace with armed ethnic insurgent groups may now be in jeopardy.
In an interview with Ye Kaung Myint Maung of RFA’s Myanmar Service, Andrews talks about how the international community can stand with the people of Myanmar. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
RFA: The people of Myanmar are desperately looking for an international response against the Myanmar military. You said previously that it would require a strong and unified international response so the generals will understand there is a price to pay for their actions. What kind of measures do you have in mind?
Andrews: My first call was for the international community to express its outrage at what happened in Myanmar, and its opposition to what happened, in very clear unmistakable unequivocal terms, and that has happened to a very large extent. I was very gratified to hear very strong voices being echoed around the planet. That’s number one. But number two, what is now required is a strong action.
A price needs to be paid for this this violation. The generals have stolen developing democracy from the people of Myanmar. They have assaulted the fundamental rights of the people of Myanmar to control their own destiny, to have their own country accountable to themselves. And so, it is a real violation that we all have to recognize.
Of course, there are challenges, for those living inside of Myanmar, and I've been hearing the pots banging you know, and meetings I've been having, discussions with friends there in Myanmar, it is It is terrific.
People are talking, organizing, I know that there's various groups that are working on ways of engaging in civil disobedience, which is tremendous. But what is really important I believe is that they know that we in the international community are watching closely, that we are with the people of Myanmar. We stand with the people of Myanmar, and we too are willing to take action.
Now, I have specifically called for targeted sanctions to be imposed on the generals, those who are responsible for this for this coup, and an international arms embargo. Now, that means that we need to be clear… that we are directing this action to those who need to be held accountable, that we are not impacting the people of Myanmar that have already been victimized by the regime. So, crafting this these sets of sanctions, crafting the action necessary, takes deliberation and discussion.
I've been engaged with a series of discussions with various individuals and groups about the form that this will take and the time frame and so forth. So, it takes a bit of time. But I am confident that in not too much time we are going to see announcements of sanctions, of actions, and a very firm commitment by the international community to stand with and stand for the people of Myanmar who have been victimized in this way.
RFA: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said the UN will do everything it can to mobilize all key actors to make sure that coups fail. Do you think U.N. has enough ground to intervene in the military coup in Myanmar?
Andrews: Well clearly, there are significant human rights violations going on here in Myanmar, violations of international law, and so every mechanism that is available should be looked at very very seriously and applied very very seriously. I'm very happy that the secretary general is speaking very clearly and very forcefully about this because that's exactly what is required.
Now each government needs to look and decide what it is able to do, what it is capable of doing and how quickly it can move forward. And we are providing them with whatever thoughts, ideas, recommendations, that we can and certainly urging them to take action. So, there is a range of things that can occur. But what's important right now is that the will to action is there and having a strong voice by the secretary-general and strong voices from the president of the United States for example, the European Union and others, speaking forcefully about the need for action is critical because it's that political will that's the first critical step forward.
Then we begin to put down the mechanics of how these things can work, and then we put forward as forceful, as direct, and hopefully as successful a series of sanctions and pressure that will make sure that the generals understand that we will not let this stand.
RFA: We saw the UN Security Council meeting initially fail to produce a condemnation against Myanmar’s military because China and Russia do not see eye to eye with most other U.N. member states. Do you think China and Russia could be persuaded to stop funding for the military?
Andrews: Well, I certainly hope so. I mean the fact that the Security Council met and discussed these issues and that there have been expressions of concern throughout the region is, I think a very positive step. Each country is different obviously, and historically, China has been there to provide the generals with weapons, with trade, with protection in the Security Council we all know that, but this is such an egregious violation that certainly it is not in the interest of China to have such a development right on their right on their border and to have such lawlessness and disregard for the rule of law to be to be right there. So, this is a threat I believe, to not only the people of Myanmar but to the region and to the world. And so, it is in everyone's interest, I believe, to take the steps necessary to hold the generals accountable and to make certain that we do everything possible not to allow this coup to be successful.
RFA: State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s image has been tarnished recently, as she refused to blame the Tatmadaw for human rights violations, even defending their actions at the International Court of Justice. Do you think people will rally behind her?
I think what is critical is that the people of the world rally around the people of Myanmar. This is not about a particular leader or government official or political party official. This is about an assault on an entire people. This is about the theft, or the attempted theft, of an emerging democracy. And so that is exactly where I believe the focus of the international community needs to be. And I'm going to do everything possible to make sure that our focus is on the people of Myanmar because that's where our focus just needs to be.
RFA You said previously that the Tatmadaw’s allegations of election fraud are unsubstantiated and absurd. Can you elaborate on this matter?
Andrews: First of all, you had 8.6 million voting irregularities, allegedly and I couldn't find any evidence that had been put forward for any of the 8.6 million. And what I guess they could provide evidence for was this idea that walkie talkies were in the possession of the state counsellor. I think this is just completely absurd and ridiculous and I don't know if the generals realize, they're very insular, how ridiculous they appear to the world. But it's just completely absurd in a in a word.
And the fact is, if you have concerns, issues, problems, criticisms of the election, the way it occurred, and any aspect of the election, OK, there there's a right way to go about dealing with those concerns voicing those concerns, having those concerns processed. And there's a wrong way to go about it.
And the absolute wrong way to go about concerns about an election is to destroy and overturn a democracy and undermine the basic fundamental rights of the citizens of an entire country. So regardless of what your issues might have been with voting or any other aspect of the election, a coup d’état is absolutely inexcusable and unacceptable as a way to address whatever concerns you might have.
RFA: The military’s coup may have brought uncertainty to the ongoing peace process with armed ethnic groups. Will the peace process now stall?
Andrews: Well, obviously, we have to see. There’re so many questions, obviously that have come to the fore as a result of this, the peace process of course being a very important one. I know that there are some groups that are protesting, that are calling throughout Myanmar, that are there protesting this coup d’état. I know that there are communities that are very vulnerable under any circumstances but now that this coup has occurred and there are even fewer sources of accountability for the military, I'm very concerned about all communities, communities that are in conflict zones, communities that are vulnerable, communities that have been dealing with a variety of challenges. This makes all of that worse. And it's even more reason why we need to work as quickly as possible to overturn this coup and restore basic rights and democracy for the people of the country.
RFA: Myanmar is already struggling with massive civilian displacement, armed conflict and a COVID-19 outbreak. What could be the humanitarian fallout from this political crisis?
Andrews: Well, the people who are the most vulnerable and can’t afford to be hurt the most are of course the ones that are going to be hurt the most. It's very tragic to those that have been displaced… I urge friends to think about this, if there's any group of people on the planet who should not be having to go through this, it's the people of Myanmar, a people dealing with a pandemic, many dealing with an economy that's been on the ropes, the various conflicts that are going on in the country and that continue to prolong the displacement of significant numbers of people.
This is the worst development possible for them. It's all the more reason that those of us in the international community work as hard as we possibly can to stand with and for the people of Myanmar and do that through concrete, strong, focused action on their behalf. And that's what I certainly intend to do.