At the United Nations, Biden must support democracy and human rights in Myanmar
Tomorrow, President Joe Biden will address the United Nations General Assembly for the first time in one of the most visible foreign policy speeches since taking office. At stake is its declared priority to reclaim America’s global position, which has been so severely diminished by the Trump administration. Biden has vowed to stand up for democracy in the face of rising authoritarianism around the world. Myanmar (formerly Burma), a country that has suffered decades of brutal military rule and systematic human rights violations, is a place where this struggle is dramatically unfolding.
Ten years ago, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took an active interest in promoting change in Myanmar, successfully pushing for the release of over 1,000 political prisoners, limited constitutional reform and in new elections won by the opposition National League for Democracy. an overwhelming majority in parliament. While these reforms have engendered cautious optimism that Myanmar may finally be on the path to democracy, that hope has been tempered by the Myanmar military’s refusal to relinquish much of its long-standing authority. The generals retained control of key ministries and were guaranteed a quarter of the seats in parliament. This prevented the most necessary constitutional reforms.
Beginning in 2014, the military and allied ultranationalist militias armed social media – Facebook, in particular – as part of a brutal campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State that led to the burning of houses and rape of women. In the end, more than 800,000 Rohingyas fled the country. In 2018, a UN report classified these mass crimes as genocide, identifying sexual violence as a deliberate strategy to terrorize civilian populations, with a degree of planning that involved the highest level of the military.
Adding to Myanmar’s misery, in February this year the military launched a coup, dismantling the democratically elected government and imprisoning the country’s leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi. When tens of thousands of people took to the streets in response, their peaceful protests were brutally suppressed. Over the past seven months, over 1,000 people have been killed, over 6,000 arbitrarily detained and a quarter of a million Burmese driven from their homes. The junta even sought to make COVID-19 a tool of their oppression, by hoarding oxygen, arresting and persecuting medics, opening fire on crowds seeking medical care and collectively denying Myanmar citizens their right to basic health services.
As President Biden steps onto the podium to address world leaders at the UN, Myanmar’s military leaders represent all he is vowed to face. In addition to condemning Myanmar’s ongoing human rights crisis, which he clearly must do, Biden and his administration must also ensure that the country’s illegitimate military leaders are denied diplomatic recognition at the UN itself. same. There are two competing candidatures for Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN – one from the democratically elected Government of National Unity (NUG), the other from the military. Due to China’s long-standing support for the Burmese military, Beijing is blocking the NUG representative. As the power struggle unfolds, the United States must continue to support NUG representative Kyaw Moe Tum, who now holds the seat, and ensure that he can participate freely in the proceedings of the General Assembly. . The United States should also support the UN expert’s conclusion that violence against the Rohingya was genocide. In the Security Council, the Biden administration is also expected to assert its leadership in pushing for global restrictions on arms sales to Myanmar and sanctions against the country’s lucrative oil and gas sector, which is a key source of violence. funding for the military.
If the United States takes a strong stand against authoritarianism in Myanmar, starting with the President’s words tomorrow, it would send a clear message to the Burmese military that it is more isolated than ever and can no longer violate human rights. with impunity. Biden should call for an end to all attacks on peaceful protesters, the release of all political detainees and the reestablishment of the duly elected government. Myanmar is a crucial test for Biden’s democratic agenda and the principles he espoused for the wider international community.