The UK Government’s Response to the Myanmar Crisis Contents


1.In February 2021, the Myanmar military staged a coup which led to the deposition and detention of the country’s democratically elected representatives, and the military taking control of the country. The protests and violence that have followed the coup have led to hundreds of deaths, thousands of disappearances, and tens to hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Evidence from diaspora groups paints a harrowing picture: many speak of family members who have been unlawfully detained and many others who are beyond contact.1

2.The Tatmadaw2 staged this coup and declared a state of national emergency following their claims that the 2020 General Election was compromised by mass voter fraud. It has provided no evidence for these claims.3 The election has been found by international observers to “reflect the true will of the electorate”.4

3.While there has been much international condemnation of the coup and the military junta’s violence against protestors, there has been little substantial action taken. Months on from the coup, clear proof that the junta is committing serious crimes against the Myanmar people continues to surface regularly. Statements of condemnation have not and will not prevent these crimes—only clear action will.

4.The need for this action is urgent. Dr Sasa, the Minister for International Cooperation in the democratically elected National Unity Government (NUG), said:

It is a pivotal movement in our history. The darkest hour in our history which was heading to the great civil war and genocide. Some 54 million brave people of Myanmar are facing the cruellest military junta.5

The UK has a unique role to play. As the United Nations Security Council ‘penholder’ on Myanmar, and as an accepted Dialogue Partner to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),6 there are several fronts on which the UK can exert further diplomatic influence. This crisis is also a major test of the effectiveness of the UK’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific region, as announced in the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.7 If the Government is serious about building its influence in the region it should show a willingness to take moral leadership and prevent further conflict and loss of life. This report sets out what more the UK Government could and should do.

Box 1: Explainer: Penholders and Dialogue Partners

The Penholder System: The Security Council ‘penholder’ on a specific country is responsible for drafting outcomes, holding emergency meetings, organising debates, and chairing negotiations over drafts and speaking first whenever the Council discusses the issue. The UK is the penholder for Myanmar.

ASEAN Dialogue Partner: Dialogue Partner status is conferred to countries with strong ties to ASEAN, but which are located outside of Southeast Asia. The Government considers Dialogue Partner status to “give the UK high-level access to ASEAN reinforced by deeper practical cooperation” and “further build the UK’s strong relationships across the ASEAN region”.

Source: Security Council Report, The Penholder System, 21 December 2018;, UK seeks to boost ties with Southeast Asia through ASEAN, 5 June 2020

5.In this short inquiry, we held a single oral evidence session. We received 55 submissions, publishing 36.8 We are grateful to all those who gave evidence.

6.Chapter 2 of this report addresses the multilateral and diplomatic action required of the UK Government. Chapter 3 addresses measures needed to strengthen the UK’s approach to sanctions. Chapter 4 outlines the steps needed to ensure adequate humanitarian support reaches those affected by the crisis. Chapter 5 explores ways of holding the junta accountable in the future, and Chapter 6 outlines measures to support Myanmar nationals in the UK.

1 NUG Campaign UK (MYA0035) para 8

2 Although the military is called the Tatmadaw, we generally use the term ‘junta’ throughout this report, recognising that the military’s control is illegitimate and achieved only through force. The junta have threatened legal action against foreign news organisations using this term, evidencing the regime’s insecurity and the effectiveness of publicly questioning their legitimacy. See: Reuters, Myanmar’s army rulers threaten those who call them junta, 30 June 2021

5 Q3 [Dr Sasa]

6 Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (MYA0020) para 23

8 Those withheld from publication were at the request of the submitters, as they feared that publication could endanger colleagues, friends or relatives who are active in Myanmar. Although not referenced explicitly in this report, these submissions were vital in informing our approach.

Published: 16 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement