The United Nations Response to the Killings in Myanmar is Not Enough

Logan Sweeney

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2022


On Saturday, March 27, 2021, as the Myanmar military celebrated the 76th annual Armed Forces Day with a parade, Myanmar police and soldiers killed dozens of citizens. Within the last two months, over 100 civilian pro-democracy protesters have been killed by the Myanmar military.

When the coup started in February, the United Nations (“UN”) condemned the junta. Since then, the UN has taken no action. The UN needs to interject and end the killing and violence against civilians. The UN Security Council or an emergency summit should deny recognition of the Myanmar military as a legitimate government, act to cut off the Myanmar military from funding and access to weapons, and then the International Criminal Court should investigate the killings of civilians.

Timeline of the Coup

Myanmar was ruled by a military junta from 1962 until 2011. In 2011, the government brought in a number of reforms paving the way for the 2015 election which marked the first free nationwide election in 25 years. The National League of Democracy (“NLD”) won the 2015 election, meaning that the NLD would choose the next president. Although this election marked a major feat for the NLD, the military continued to maintain power within parliament, where the Constitution delineates that unelected military representatives are guaranteed 25% of the seats in parliament.

In November of 2020, Myanmar held another free election, where the NLD won in a landslide victory, winning 397 out of 476 parliamentary seats. In December of 2020, Myanmar’s military party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (“USDP”), rejected the election results and claimed that there was voter fraud. The Union Election Commission investigated and found that claims of election fraud were untrue, and that the NLD had in-fact won. This loss pushed the military to take action by violent and illegal means.

In February of 2021, the military executed a coup after raiding and detaining the State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other elected officials. Before being detained, State Counsellor Suu Kyi expressed that the military’s action was aimed at bringing a dictatorship back to the country. Since then, the military removed 24 ministers and deputies, where the USDP has named 11 replacements.

As of March 27, 2021, in addition to the military’s illegal removal of elected officials, it has also killed 114 civilians. Prior to the latest killings at the Armed Forces Day, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the junta leader, stated, “violent acts that affect stability and security in order to make demands are inappropriate.” The military has continued to kill unarmed civilians, including children, who are protesting the illegal overthrow of their government. This cannot be allowed, yet the UN has done nothing.

United Nations response to the violence

At the time, the UN condemned the coup, where Special Rapporteur said that all options are on the table, including sanctions, arms embargos, travel ban, and action at the International Criminal Court. However, no action has been taken.

Since Saturday’s Armed Forces Day killings, the UN and different countries, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, United Kingdom, and the United States have signed onto a statement condemning the violence. However, there is no set plan to stop the violence perpetuated by the Myanmar military. Where UN special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urge the Myanmar military to immediately stop killing, but there is no plan for action.

The violence against civilians will only intensify if no immediate action is taken, and international political bodies cannot merely condemn these killings. Rather, immediate and impactful action needs to be taken.

What can be done?

The violence against citizens will not end on its own, and we cannot sit idly by and allow these killings to continue. The UN needs to take action. The UN Security Council (“UNSC”) has the power to establish peacekeeping operations, enact international sanctions, and authorize military action. The UNSC should sanction the selling of weapons to the Myanmar military.

Additionally, the UN should hold an emergency summit with the countries neighboring Myanmar to reaffirm the denial of recognition of the Myanmar military as a legitimate government, to sanction any international funding of the Myanmar military, and place international diplomatic pressure on the ending of these killings.

Finally, the International Criminal Court should investigate the killings of civilians and the international crimes that have been committed by the Myanmar military since 2011.