The United Nations General Assembly sought to ostracize Myanmar’s ruling generals on Friday with an emphatic rebuke, demanding they end the five-month-old military takeover, stop killing opponents and free imprisoned civilian leaders.
The 193-member body also called for an arms embargo on Myanmar and requested unimpeded humanitarian access to stop the country’s slide into poverty, dysfunction and despair.
The adoption of a resolution containing these demands by a vote of 119 to one, with 36 abstentions and 37 members not voting, was not the overwhelming consensus its drafters had originally sought. But it still represented the most widespread condemnation yet of the Myanmar military commanders who seized total control in a Feb. 1 coup and have basically ignored all efforts to restore that country’s fragile democracy.
“We cannot live in a world where military coups become a norm,” Secretary General António Guterres, who was elected to a second five-year term on Friday, told reporters before the General Assembly’s passage of the resolution. “It is totally unacceptable.”
Olof Skoog, a Swedish diplomat who represents the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations, praised the outcome.
“It sends a strong and powerful message,” he said. “It delegitimizes the military junta, condemns its abuse and violence against its own people and demonstrates its isolation in the eyes of the world.”
Myanmar’s trajectory, from decades of military rule to a move toward democratic transition in recent years — and then abruptly and violently back to military rule this year — has made the Southeast Asian country of 54 million one of the world’s most acute crises.
Historians said it was only the fourth time since the end of the Cold War that the General Assembly had passed a resolution condemning a military coup, and was a rare occasion in which the body also called for an arms embargo.
While General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding, the resolution on Myanmar nonetheless was a sharp diplomatic slap of the generals who have acted with impunity. Such a global criticism belied the junta’s assertions that it has not been isolated and that it can continue to do business with the outside world.
The yes votes included one from Myanmar’s ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, who speaks for the country’s deposed civilian government and has defied junta orders to resign.
The lone no vote was cast by Belarus, which has itself been widely criticized for severe repression of internal dissent.
Perhaps more surprising was the abstention by China, Myanmar’s giant neighbor, which has extensive investments in the country and has taken subtle steps suggesting it could accept the junta’s legitimacy.
But China also has been eager to avoid embarrassment at the United Nations, where it is now the second-largest donor nation, after the United States. And the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, facing criticism over the aggressive way China projects its growing economic and military might, lately has ordered subordinates to portray the country as a “credible, humble and respectable” member of the global community of nations.
The resolution called on the junta to “end the state of emergency, to respect all human rights of the people of Myanmar and to allow the sustained democratic transition of Myanmar.”
It also called for Myanmar’s armed forces to “immediately and unconditionally release” the civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other officials, politicians and “all those who have been arbitrarily detained, charged or arrested.”
And in emphasizing the need to halt the crackdown on coup opponents, which has left hundreds of people dead, the resolution called on “all member states to prevent the flow of arms to Myanmar” — essentially an arms embargo.
China has objected to similar versions of the General Assembly resolution in the more powerful Security Council, where China wields a veto as a permanent member. The 15-member Council has taken no decisive action on the Myanmar coup, which has led to widespread frustration among many U.N. diplomats and rights groups.
The General Assembly resolution was the outcome of extensive negotiations that included diplomats from the European Union and other Western nations, as well as from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, a group that includes Myanmar.
Its passage occurred after the secretary general’s special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, privately briefed the Security Council on her bleak assessment of what is happening in the country, where a low-level insurrection is defying the military’s control and basic government functions have been paralyzed or severely disrupted. The junta has barred Ms. Burgener from entering, but she has extensive contacts there.
“The situation on the ground in Myanmar is very worrisome,” she told reporters after her Security Council appearance. “The violations are getting bigger, with violence in regions we’ve never seen before.”
She projected that by next year, absent a humanitarian intervention and other remedial steps, half the country would be living in poverty.
Ms. Burgener’s efforts to visit Myanmar have been repeatedly thwarted by the coup leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who has met with ASEAN officials but has shown no inclination to restore the civilian administration.
The junta’s judicial authority has put Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent many years under house arrest during the junta’s earlier era of rule, on trial this week for offenses ranging from breaching the official secrets act to illicit possession of walkie-talkies.