Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: A Crisis Born from Impunity

Excerpt of Just Security op-ed authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

In his first speech since illegally attempting a coup d’etat, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing told the people of Myanmar that, “no one is above the law.” He went on, “no one or no organization is above the national interest in state-building and nation-building.” But in reality, Min Aung Hlaing and indeed all of the military (Tatmadaw) are very much above the law in Myanmar.

Of the coup’s many potential causes, perhaps the most overt is that military leadership thought they could get away with it. The military’s constitutional insulation from civilian oversight and control, the failure thus far to hold them accountable for human rights abuses and international crimes, and even periodic cheerleading from the international community for a “democratic transition” emboldened the military into thinking that subverting the will of the people could be done without major consequence. To quote the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, “This crisis was born of impunity.”

After all, the military has been getting away with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, so why not a coup?

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Reversing the Coup is No Solution for Myanmar

Excerpt of The Diplomat op-ed authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and GJC Special Counsel Michelle Onello.

Almost as soon as news spread of the Myanmar military’s brazen coup on February 1, we began hearing calls for a “reversal” of the coup. Now, the international community’s efforts have focused on restoring the pre-coup status quo, as evidenced by the recent (and failed) ASEAN emergency summit.

These proposals and initiatives ignore the persistent demands from protestors and ethnic groups for a radical and fundamental shift in Myanmar. Perhaps most importantly, they fail to acknowledge that the rapidly deteriorating situation in Myanmar cannot be resolved with a return to the precarious pre-coup balance of power because it’s precisely this unsustainable framework that led to the coup in the first place.

Without a recognition of the need for a complete restructuring of the underlying political and legal system so that it grants ethnic groups a meaningful role and assures justice for the military’s past and present crimes, history will keep repeating itself and the people of Myanmar will continue to suffer.

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Press Conference: Joint Civil Society Appeal for Global Arms Embargo on Myanmar

Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan spoke at a press conference to announce a call to action from more than 200 nongovernmental organizations from around the world. The letter urges the United Nations Security Council to immediately impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar in order to pressure the military junta to stop killing unarmed protesters and end human rights abuses against those opposing military rule.

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Global Civil Society Statement: The UN Must Block Arms Sales to Myanmar

We, the undersigned organizations, call on the United Nations Security Council to urgently impose a comprehensive global arms embargo on Myanmar to help prevent further violations of human rights against peaceful protesters and others opposing military rule. In recent weeks, Myanmar security forces have killed hundreds of people, including dozens of children, merely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Since the February 1, 2021 coup, Myanmar’s military junta has responded with increasing brutality to nationwide protests calling for the restoration of democratic civilian rule. As of May 4, security forces have killed at least 769 people, including 51 children as young as 5, and arbitrarily detained several thousand activists, journalists, civil servants, and politicians. Hundreds have been forcibly disappeared, the authorities unwilling to provide information on their well-being or where they are being held. Over the past few months, the military has demonstrated a callous disregard for human life that has driven its strategy for decades. In video footage from cities and towns across the country, soldiers can be seen shooting down protesters, including children, brutally beating medical aid workers, and firing shotguns into crowds of peacefully protesting doctors.

In addition to the latest violations of human rights, Myanmar’s security forces have a history of grave abuses against peaceful critics of the government and military, and war crimes and other international crimes against the Rohingya and other ethnic minority groups. Of particular note is the military's widely documented use of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon against ethnic communities.

No government should sell a single bullet to the junta under these circumstances. Imposing a global arms embargo on Myanmar is the minimum necessary step the Security Council should take in response to the military’s escalating violence. Arms and materiel provided to Myanmar’s security forces are likely to be used by the security forces to commit abuses in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.

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​​​​​​​200+ NGOs Call on UN Security Council to Impose Global Arms Embargo on Myanmar

NEW YORK — Over 200 nongovernmental organizations from around the world today called on the United Nations Security Council to immediately impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar in response to the military coup and ensuing human rights abuses.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“The urgency of a global arms embargo in Myanmar cannot be overstated. Myanmar’s military has long been one of the world’s most notorious perpetrators of conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence. Such violence has ramped up since the coup, with harrowing reports of torture and sexual violence against women and girl detainees. International arms sales fuel these ongoing military crimes and its past time UN Security Council members back up their rhetoric on women’s rights with concrete action.”

Open Letter to Secretary of State Blinken on the Public Health and Human Rights Crisis in Myanmar

To: Antony Blinken, Secretary of State

CC: Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Jeff Zients, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator; Samantha Power, USAID Administrator Nominee

Secretary Blinken:

We write as concerned human rights organizations, humanitarian organizations, medical professional associations, labor organizations, and refugee rights organizations to urge you to take immediate additional actions to address the public health and human rights crisis in Myanmar.

It has now been two months since the Myanmar military executed a coup d’état to overthrow the country’s democratically elected government, prompting widespread peaceful protests demanding a return to democracy. The military’s security forces have responded with an increasingly brutal crackdown defined by some of the worst human rights violations imaginable: unlawful and arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, and extrajudicial killings. This includes the bloodiest crackdown yet: more than 110 civilians reportedly killed in just a few days by security forces, among them children as young as five years old.

Myanmar’s health care workers, in particular, have been systematically targeted by the military for participating in the civil disobedience movement and providing care to injured protestors.Many health care workers have been forced into hiding, kidnapped in night raids, or detained arbitrarily pursuant to spurious charges.More than 100 medical students and health care workers have reportedly been arrested since the start of the coup.

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Myanmar’s Coup Is Devastating for Women

Excerpt of Foreign Policy op-ed by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and GJC Special Counsel Michelle Onello.

The Myanmar military’s forceful takeover of the civilian government on Feb. 1, and its deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters who have marched in the streets ever since, are a dangerous setback for democracy and the rule of law in the country. But they’re especially devastating for women.

The coup, which ousted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, not only threatens to reverse the progress made over the past decade to ensure that women in Myanmar have more opportunities, power, and influence in society but also places an unaccountable military with a history of gender-based violence in control of every aspect of government. Beyond the direct threat this poses to women’s physical safety, this rule—if left unchecked—will reinvigorate Myanmar’s long history of patriarchal oppression.

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UN Security Council: Hold Myanmar Military Accountable for Violence Against Women

Hold Myanmar Military Accountable for Violence Against Women

Dear President and Members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council,

Marking the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, we, Women’s Peace Network, and the undersigned organizations working for women’s rights and against gender-based violence, call upon the UN Security Council to hold the Myanmar military accountable for grievously violating the human rights of women. Since the military’s illegitimate seizure of power on February 1, the people of Myanmar have led nationwide mass movements to demand for the November 2020 election results to be respected, the 2008 Constitution to be abolished, a federal democratic union to be built with full equality and self-determination, and those arbitrarily detained and arrested to be released. Despite engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience, thousands of civilians, including women, have been brutally assailed by the regime’s tactics of violent assault, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killing. Given this military’s record of using sexual violence as a weapon of war, we fear that the country’s progress in enhancing the status of women is at risk now more than ever. We, members of the global women’s rights movement, now urgently join forces to amplify the people’s calls: the Myanmar military and security forces must be held to account for their brutality, and all impunity fueling their historical violation of women’s rights and international laws and norms must end.

Across Myanmar, the military continue to act in violation of the UN Charter and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In over a month, the Myanmar military and security forces have indiscriminately fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters -- killing at least 20 women. Deploying armored vehicles along the country’s streets, male security forces have targeted women with batons and slingshots all while strategically wielding water cannons, tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets against other peaceful protesters. Throughout states and regions, the regime’s arbitrary detention and arrests of civilians have continued to rise as allegations of sexual assault and abuse across prisons have spread rampantly. If the Security Council and the international community do not take concrete action, we are concerned that the Myanmar military and security forces will continue to commit mass atrocities and act in contravention of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

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Obligation to Act: International Action and the Fight Against the Coup in Myanmar

Description:

While the country is still reeling from the Burmese military's illegitimate coup on February 1, the international community have launched a slate of new sanctions against military leaders amid public condemnations of the Tatmadaw's use of deadly violence against peaceful protests. Multiple questions about Burma's future remain unanswered, however, particularly as they relate to international support for justice and accountability, ethnic peace and the creation of a true democratic federal union, and the Rohingya genocide crisis.

During this online event, international justice experts from around the world will speak alongside civil society leaders from Burma to share their perspectives on how international and grassroots mobilization around ongoing international justice processes and mechanisms can contribute to a united and multi-ethnic anti-coup movement that ends the Burmese military dictatorship and its violent reign of impunity.

Panelists include:

  • Akila Radhakrishnan (Moderator), President of the Global Justice Center.
  • Tun Khin (President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK)
  • M. Arsalan Suleman (Foley Hoag, legal counsel to The Gambia in its case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice)
  • Naw May Oo (Activist and Advisor to the Karen National Union)
  • Thinzar Shunlei Yi (Activist, Action Committee for Democracy Development)
  • Tomas Quintana (Former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights on Myanmar, lead counsel in the current Universal Jurisdiction case in Argentina)

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Myanmar's UN ambassador defies military to plead for immediate global action to overturn coup

Excerpt of CNN article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

The world should applaud the bravery of Representative Kyaw Moe Tun for delivering such a powerful statement on behalf of the people of Myanmar, not the illegitimate military junta," Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said in a statement Friday.

"The international community must reward such courage by taking up his call for immediate, decisive action to hold the military accountable."

Myanmar descended into unrest when the coup ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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Myanmar Representative to UN Denounces Coup and Urges Security Council Action

NEW YORK — During a briefing before the United Nations General Assembly today, Myanmar’s representative to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, denounced the coup carried out by his country’s military. He also urged the UN Security Council and international community to use “any means necessary” to hold the military accountable.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“The world should applaud the bravery of Representative Kyaw Moe Tun for delivering such a powerful statement on behalf of the people of Myanmar, not the illegitimate military junta. The international community must reward such courage by taking up his call for immediate, decisive action to hold the military accountable.

“The representative made his statement on behalf of the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluuttaw (CRPH), composed of duly elected members of parliament, not the illegal military regime. The international community should support the will of the people of Myanmar by recognizing the CRPH and refusing to legitimize, normalize, or cooperate with the military government.

“In defending his people and democracy on the world stage, the representative made it clear that the military poses an existential threat to the country and that the coup must fail. The path to a peaceful, democratic, and multi-ethnic Myanmar will require steps to financial isolation of the military and their access to arms, accountability for military crimes, and — perhaps most importantly — a new federal Constitution.

“The people of Myanmar have spoken at great risk to their personal safety and security. Now is the time for the international community to stand with them and take forceful, concerted action.”

What Myanmar's coup means for the future of Rohingya Muslims

Excerpt of The New Arab article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

For now, UN-backed efforts to repatriate Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar have stalled, with rights groups forewarning an increased danger for them.

"A necessary condition for safe and voluntary return has been holding the military accountable," says Akila Radhakrishnan, president of international human rights organisation Global Justice Center.

"Senior General Min Aung Hlaing - one of the main architects of the genocide against the Rohingya - is now in power, so I think it's really hard to imagine how there can be any safe repatriation to Myanmar. A risk of atrocities is certainly heightened."

Radhakrishnan says the lack of accountability of the military throughout more than 50 years of rule is to blame for the fragility of the country's democracy.

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Myanmar coup: How will the military takeover affect Rohingya genocide trial?

Excerpt of The Independent article that quotes GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

While experts believe the coup d’état will have little effect on the outcome of the trial itself, it could significantly change how Myanmar responds to proceedings at the UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Netherlands.

“From the court’s perspective, nothing changes,” Grant Shubin, legal director at the Global Justice Center, told The Independent. But he said the coup could change how the military government defends itself against the charge of genocide and affect how it is represented in The Hague.

Myanmar is accused of committing widespread and systematic atrocities against the Rohingya during a “clearance” campaign launched in August 2017, which thousands were killed and raped and more than 730,000 forced to flee to the world’s largest refugee camp across the border in Bangladesh.

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UN Human Rights Council Passes Resolution on Myanmar Coup

NEW YORK — The United Nations Human Rights Council today passed a resolution on human rights concerns in Myanmar following the military coup. The resolution followed an emergency session requested by the United Kingdom and the European Union.

The resolution, adopted by consensus, denounced the coup and the violations of civil and human rights that followed. It called on Myanmar’s military and security forces to refrain from violence and protect fundamental human rights. It also requested further UN monitoring of the situation and called for Myanmar’s cooperation.

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“The council took an important step today by passing a resolution against the coup and urging respect for democratic and human rights. The resolution rightly called on the Myanmar military to release those arbitrarily detained, including Aung San Suu Kyi. But, it failed to address the most necessary condition for change: accountability.

“Structural impunity for crimes committed by the military is what emboldened the military to stage a coup. The international community has continually failed to combat this impunity cemented by Myanmar’s pseudo-democratic constitution. The council could have taken the opportunity today to confront this failure by acknowledging that there is no sustainable path forward for Myanmar without accountability for those responsible for human rights violations.

“People across Myanmar are uniting more and more around the demand to bring the military under civilian control. They recognize that the military is the chief obstacle to democracy and human rights in the country. It’s time the international bodies like the UN Human Rights Council recognize this fact that the coup has made undeniable.”

International Law and the Plight of the Rohingyas: Insights from International Dispute Settlement

The situation of the Rohingya community in Myanmar and Bangladesh is under intense scrutiny by the international community. Currently, a case is pending before the International Court of Justice concerning Myanmar’s alleged responsibility for genocide, an investigation is on-going at the International Criminal Court and several fact-finding mechanisms are working on gathering evidence of the events. This panel will address whether and how international dispute settlement can assist in solving the numerous, complex issues raised by the events in Rakhine State (Myanmar).

Speakers:

  • Michael A. Becker, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin
  • Miriam Cohen, Professeure Adjointe, University of Montreal
  • Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Centre
  • Yasmin Ullah, Human Rights Activist, Member of the Rohingya community

U.N. calls for democracy in Myanmar following military coup

Excerpt of UPI article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

"This is not how the Security Council runs its day-to-day work, nor will it be conducive to the solidarity of and mutual trust between Security Council members," he said.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said the Security Council statement provided "some relief" following the negotiations but that it will be meaningful if not "followed by formal action."

"It is crucial the council listens to communities most at risk in Myanmar, who have been clear from the beginning that targeted sanctions on the military and military-owned companies, an arms embargo and efforts to hold the military accountable are the concrete actions that international community must take to address this emergency," Radhakrishnan said in a statement on Thursday.

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Myanmar lodges objections in Rohingya genocide case

Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes a GJC factsheet.

This week’s coup could bring further complications, with the military that orchestrated the crackdown once again in control and the country’s elected civilian leaders in detention.

“In principle the coup has no direct impact on the ICJ case,” international rights group Global Justice Center said in a statement. “For the ICJ’s own purposes, it is the state of Myanmar, however constructed, that is the subject of this case and changes in political leadership have no bearing. The coup does however, raise other questions, including whether a military-led government will continue to engage with and defend the case, as well as how the Court will view compliance with the provisional measures orders.”

In January last year, the court told Myanmar to take provisional measures to “protect against further, irreparable harm to the rights of the Rohingya group under the Genocide Convention” and ordered the country to report on the situation every six months.

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UN Security Council Finds Rare Unity in Criticizing Myanmar Coup

Excerpt of Bloomberg article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

China’s diplomats sought to strike a balance by supporting the Security Council statement while issuing a separate statement noting that China is a “friendly neighbor” of Myanmar and highlighting that the council is calling for “dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.”

“It is some relief for the people of Myanmar that the UN Security Council finally took action today by agreeing on a statement concerning the military coup,” Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the New York-based Global Justice Center, said in a statement. “But thanks to recent, historic levels of gridlock on the Council, the bar has been set far too low. If this statement is not followed by formal action, it is meaningless.”

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UN Security Council Issues Statement on Myanmar Coup

NEW YORK — The United Nations Security Council issued a press statement today in response to the military coup in Myanmar. The statement, drafted by current council president the United Kingdom, follows days of strained negotiations between council members.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, had the following reaction:

“It is some relief for the people of Myanmar that the UN Security Council finally took action today by agreeing on a statement concerning the military coup. But thanks to recent, historic levels of gridlock on the Council, the bar has been set far too low. If this statement is not followed by formal action, it is meaningless.

“As a start, holding an open meeting on the crisis would build trust in the Council’s commitment to meaningful action and to execute its mandate to maintain international peace and security. Yet it is crucial the Council listens to communities most at risk in Myanmar, who have been clear from the beginning that targeted sanctions on the military and military owned companies, an arms embargo, and efforts to hold the military accountable are the concrete actions the international community must take to address this emergency.

“The geopolitical reality between Council members is no doubt complicated. Yet it is certain that the Council’s continued failure to act will have dangerous ramifications for the people of Myanmar. Ethnic groups like the Rohingya, activists, and others who speak out against the military are at risk. The military must be shown that there are consequences for such brazen attacks on democracy. The Council is in a unique position to lead this charge for accountability and if it fails, the people of Myanmar are all the more likely to face another violent era of military dictatorship.”

UN Security Council fails to condemn Myanmar coup

Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Human rights groups condemned the failure of the council to take swift action.

“No one should be surprised that the world’s body for maintaining international peace and security failed to issue a statement condemning a brazen military coup,” Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center said in a statement urging world leaders to take action including selected sanctions, arms embargoes and economic divestment to “disempower” the military.

“The time has passed for failed strategies promoting ‘stability’ and quiet diplomacy over accountability and justice,” she said. “The military has destabilized the country irreparably. It’s now on the international community to stem the tide of military violence and impunity before it’s too late.”

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