U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is calling for Myanmar’s ruling military junta to restore the country’s path “to a genuine and inclusive democracy” on the one-year anniversary of the landslide general election victory by the now-ousted civilian government’s ruling National League for Democracy.
“We honor the people of Burma striving to restore democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law in their country, including more than 1,300 innocent people who have lost their lives in that struggle,” Blinken said, referring to Myanmar by its other name.
The NLD won 396 of the 498 contested parliamentary seats in the November 8, 2020 election, handily beating the military-backed Union and Solidarity Party to win reelection in just the second democratically held elections after the military formally gave up control of Myanmar after decades of autocratic rule.
But the results were negated just three months later when the military overthrew the civilian government on February 1, 2021, and jailed several of its officials, including de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. The military claimed the election results were fraudulent, an allegation rejected by the country’s election commission.
Suu Kyi led the civilian government as “state counsellor” after the military-drafted constitution effectively barred her from serving as president.
The February 1 coup and its “subsequent and ongoing violent crackdown has further undermined human rights and fundamental freedoms and reversed a decade of progress toward a genuine democracy,” Blinken said in his written statement.
Separately, the United Nations reiterated its call on the military “to respect the will of the people and put the country back on track to democratic transition.”
Spokesman Stephane Dujarric noted Monday that the general elections were “deemed free and fair by domestic and international observers.”
“The United Nations remains gravely concerned about the intensifying violence in Myanmar, accompanied by growing displacement, which continues to take a heavy toll on vulnerable civilians and affect women disproportionately,” Dujarric said.
The United Nations is also increasingly concerned about the growing humanitarian crisis. Before the February 1 military coup, 1 million people across Myanmar were in need of assistance. Now, that number tops 3 million. Hundreds of thousands of people have also been forced to flee their homes due to post-election violence.
U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said Monday that aid access countrywide is “extremely limited” due to “bureaucratic impediments” that the military has put in place.
“The world is watching,” he said. “I urge all parties to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to protect civilians, ensure civilians can freely move towards safety when needed, and allow humanitarian assistance to be provided to those in need, including those being forced to flee the violence.”
U.N. humanitarian efforts are severely underfunded, with less than half the $385 million needed in hand.
The U.N. Security Council held a private meeting early Monday to discuss the overall situation. Britain, which holds the Myanmar file on the council, requested the session.
“We are particularly concerned about the buildup of military action in the northwest of the country, and we are concerned that this rather mirrors the activity we saw four years ago ahead of the atrocities that were committed in Rakhine against the Rohingya,” Britain’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador James Kariuki told reporters ahead of the meeting. “We're very keen to make sure the council is focused and that the military know(s) that we're watching.”
(Margaret Besheer contributed to this report from the United Nations.)