GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.’s top human rights body opened an urgent session on Friday to discuss a military coup in Myanmar, facing a call for the release of people “arbitrarily detained” — including civilian government leader Aung San Suu Kyi — and more action by U.N. officials to increase scrutiny of the country.
The Human Rights Council has no power to impose sanctions but can train a potent political spotlight on rights abuses and violations. Friday’s session comes shortly after the Biden administration, which has already imposed sanctions on top coup leaders, revived U.S. participation at the 47-member Geneva body.
“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,” said the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada al-Nashif.
A draft resolution, presented by Britain and the European Union, calls for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Suu Kyi, the leader of the civilian government, and other top officials in her government, a lifting of restrictions on the internet and unimpeded humanitarian access, among other things.
The resolution also calls on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the U.N. human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, to give the independent U.N. special rapporteur on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, “increased assistance, resources and expertise” to carry out his job.
“We need real action from the United Nations,” said Andrews, a former U.S. Congressman, in a video message, citing information that the junta has detained 220 government officials and members of civil society.
“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. Andrews has been seeking the right to visit Myanmar, which its government has denied.
Min Aung Hlaing’s Feb. 1 coup ousted the civilian government of Nobel laureate Suu Kyi and prevented recently elected lawmakers from opening a new session of Parliament. It reversed nearly a decade of progress toward democracy following 50 years of military rule, and has led to widespread protests.
The military has said it was forced to step in because Suu Kyi’s government failed to properly investigate allegations of fraud in November elections, though the election commission has said there is no evidence to support those claims.