The UK Government’s Response to the Myanmar Crisis Contents

2Diplomatic and multilateral action

7.Since the February coup, the United Nations Security Council has adopted a number of statements, but no legally binding resolutions.9 On Friday 18 June, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution calling for all Member States to “prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar”.10 On the effectiveness of statements, written evidence from Burma Campaign UK said:

The Burmese military consists of people who are soldiers, not diplomats. They respect strength, not statements. What might be considered something of major diplomatic significance by many UN members may be perceived as insignificant by these authoritarian generals.11

8.If the UK is to fulfil its unique potential to mediate, it has to demonstrate a willingness to take action beyond statements. A coherent and concerted response is needed by the United Nations if the junta is to feel any real pressure. Actions should be taken to de-legitimise the junta’s authority, block its supply of arms, and encourage regional actors to take firmer measures.

The National Unity Government (NUG)

9.The National Unity Government of Myanmar consists of parliamentarians elected in the 2020 election, members of various ethnic groups, and figures in the anti-coup movement.12 Given the evidence we have heard, and the NUG’s active role in promoting democracy in Myanmar, we believe that they, not the junta, represent the legitimate and expressed will of the Myanmar people.13 However, the UK Government’s policy of recognising states, rather than governments, is an obstacle to the recognition of these legitimate representatives.14

10.The UK Government cannot be said to support democracy in Myanmar if it does not recognise the outcome of democratic elections in Myanmar. The National Unity Government comprises the legitimate representatives of the people of Myanmar, whose election has been found valid by third party observers. Rather than an exile government, the NUG should be treated as a government-in-waiting.

11.Offering support to the NUG would be a powerful step toward de-legitimising the junta. Following our decision to take evidence from Dr Sasa, the NUG’s Minister for International Cooperation, the junta’s sham ‘Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ conveyed their protests to us via the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Their letter said:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar presents its compliments to Her Britannic Majesty’s Embassy and has the honour to inform the latter that the Ministry has learnt that the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee held an evidence session as part of its inquiry on Myanmar and has communicated with Dr. Sasa, member of the terrorist group called the National Unity Government (NUG).

The Ministry strongly protests against the recent official communication made by the Foreign Affairs Committee with representatives of the above mentioned terrorist groups of Myanmar and requests the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to convey the protest note to the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

12.This objection—as well as the crude and baseless labelling of the NUG as a ‘terrorist’ organisation—demonstrates the junta’s sensitivity to anything that threatens its legitimacy. Continued support for the NUG will demonstrate that the junta will not be recognised by the international community, nor will its violent and oppressive methods.

13.The NUG’s commitment to human rights and recognising the rights and equality of different ethnic groups is welcome, with Dr Sasa sharing the NUG’s commitment to drafting a constitution which recognises the equality of all people living in Myanmar.15 We welcome the submission from the NUG’s Ministry of Human Rights, which notes the intent to support the Rohingya and bring justice for the “grave human rights violations and atrocities they have suffered”.16 Any cooperation with the NUG should be contingent on continued and unequivocal support for different ethnic groups in Myanmar, and for ensuring accountability for past human rights violations.17

14.We recommend that the UK Government supports the democratically elected National Unity Government of Myanmar by working with its representatives to identify and push for peaceful outcomes and draw attention to the junta’s illegal actions. This support should be contingent on the NUG’s clear and continued commitment to the rights of different ethnic groups and minorities, and to delivering justice for past crimes. The UK should work to encourage other countries to do the same.

15.It is essential that the UK Government’s actions do not appear to legitimise the authority of the junta in any way. Any actions that do will be seized upon by the junta and used as propaganda. Engagement should be strictly limited to increasing diplomatic and economic pressure to reduce the violence the junta is committing against civilians.

Arms embargo

16.We heard from multiple sources that the imposition of an arms embargo against the Myanmar military will be a crucial step in stopping the violence, as would the cessation of other countries providing training to the military.18 19 Although not a binding resolution, we are encouraged by the recent United Nations General Assembly vote calling for all countries to “prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar”.20 It is important that the political momentum from this vote does not subside, and that the support shown by so many countries is turned into more concrete action.

17.Freezing the Tatmadaw’s supply of arms should be the first priority of all those who wish to see violence in Myanmar come to an end. We recommend that the UK draft a United Nations Security Council resolution calling explicitly for an arms embargo on Myanmar in order to gauge the current level of support and the type of diplomatic engagement that is required to establish an effective arms embargo. The ultimate objective of the UK should be securing a binding Security Council resolution on an arms embargo on Myanmar.

18.In the absence of a binding UN resolution on an arms embargo, we recommend that the UK works bilaterally and with groups such as the G7, the Quad, and the Five Power Defence Arrangements to build broader coalitions that will implement individual arms embargos, while also maintaining pressure and support for an official United Nations arms embargo. Pressure should also be applied to other countries to cease all training of the Myanmar military.


Box 2: The ASEAN Five-point Consensus

First, there shall be immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties shall exercise utmost restraint.

Second, constructive dialogue among all parties concerned shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.

Third, a special envoy of the ASEAN Chair shall facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the Secretary General of ASEAN.

Fourth, ASEAN shall provide humanitarian assistance through the [Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance].

Fifth, the special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.

Source: ASEAN, Chairman’s statement on the ASEAN leaders’ meeting, 24 April 2021

19.We are concerned that the ASEAN five-point consensus has little hope of being effective in its current form. Written evidence from Burma Campaign UK expressed serious doubt in ASEAN’s mediation capabilities, saying that “ASEAN has no interest in human rights and democracy”.21 Other evidence criticised the fact that certain areas were omitted in ASEAN’s mediation, such as a call for the results of the 2020 election to be honoured or for political prisoners to be released.22 Soon after the consensus was established, the junta dismissed it as a series of “guidelines”, which they would consider implementing when stability returned to the country.23 However, as UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tom Andrews said, nobody has a greater stake in the situation than ASEAN, as “a failed state in the middle of ASEAN would be a significant problem for all of Myanmar’s neighbours”.24 We welcome recent reports that ASEAN wishes to expedite the mediation process, but remain concerned at the lack of a concrete timeframe.25

20.If ASEAN’s mediation efforts are to have any chance of succeeding, they must be much more assertive, with a focus on holding the leaders of the junta to account. The UK has a responsibility to amplify the importance of human rights and international law in ASEAN deliberations. Using its new status as an ASEAN Dialogue Partner, the UK should work with ASEAN to avoid any member states legitimising the junta’s authority, and should make the release of political prisoners and the cessation of all violence a fundamental part of the mediation process. The UK should also encourage ASEAN to impose a strict timeline on the junta for adoption of the five-point consensus, expediting a decision on the appointment of an ASEAN envoy to lead mediation efforts.

Other UN measures

21.In the absence of Security Council consensus, the United Nations General Assembly may adopt the ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution. This mechanism is considered to be an alternative way of building consensus through the UN, if the Security Council is unable to reach agreement on measures. The Uniting for Peace resolution:

Resolves that if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures … to maintain or restore international peace and security.26

22.If the crisis continues to worsen, and in the absence of meaningful action through other United Nations mechanisms, the Uniting for Peace option may be another viable avenue for action, as the General Assembly has already shown consensus on an arms embargo. We recommend that the Government explore the feasibility of moving for a Uniting for Peace resolution if there is a failure to reach consensus in the Security Council within the next three months.

23.To draw further attention to the challenges faced by different groups, the Government should consider raising the issue of Myanmar at the UN treaty bodies. This may include, but not be limited to, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, due to the Tatmadaw’s reported use of rape as a weapon of war; the Committee on the Rights of the Child, due to the number of children killed by the Tatmadaw; and the Committee against Torture, due to the reported torture and extrajudicial detention of protestors.

9 Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (MYA0026) para 4.2

11 Burma Campaign UK (MYA0009) para 12

12 NUG Campaign UK (MYA0036) para 6

13 Global Movement for Myanmar Democracy (MYA0013) para 3

14 Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (MYA0020) para 11

15 Q3 [Dr Sasa]

16 Aung Myo Min (Minister for Human Rights at Ministry of Human Rights of the National Unity Government of Myanmar) (MYA0044) para 1.5

17 Oxford Programme on International Peace and Security at University of Oxford Blavatnik School of Government (MYA0017) para 6

18 Fortify Rights (MYA0040) para 2.3

19 CSW (MYA0019) p 3

21 Burma Campaign UK (MYA0009) para 26

22 Free Myanmar (MYA0007) para 4

23 Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (MYA0026) para 3.1

24 Q20 [Tom Andrews]

26 United Nations, General Assembly - Fifth Session, accessed 1 July 2021

Published: 16 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement