By Rene Wadlow
In the early morning of 1 February, just before the newly elected Parliament was to hold its first session in the capital Naypyidaw, the military declared a state of emergency and effectively took power. Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counselor but effectively head of State, was placed under house arrest in her family home. The President, Win Myint, and other high political leaders were also put in house arrest. Many other political activists and human rights workers were arrested and put into military camps.
SLORC — the State Law and Order Restoration Council — was the name the military had chosen to exercise its control from 1962 to 2011 using repressive laws to punish political activists and leading the fight against the ethnic minorities. The current military administration has taken the more neutral-sounding name of the National Administrative Council (NAC), but the spirit and some of the people are the same as SLORC.
International response to the military takeover was rapid. The military’s seizure of power in Myanmar is an unacceptable subversion of the will of the people declared the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. He stressed that the United Nations will work with other international actors to ensure the failure of the coup. The U.N. has more than 2,500 personnel in Myanmar, both international and national, working to provide development and humanitarian support.
The U.N. Security Council issued on 4 February a strong statement condemning the military seizure of power and calling for democracy to be upheld and human rights respected. The Council statement stressed the need for continued support of the democratic transition in Myanmar, the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, to refrain from violence and to fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. The Security Council statement encouraged the pursuance of dialogue and reconciliation in accordance wit the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.
The Security Council statement is all the stronger that it must be unanimous. China and Russia, permanent members of the Security Council, as well as India, a current non-permanent member, have important commercial interests in Myanmar. Moreover, both China and Russia are hesitant about Security Council criticisms in general of countries.
The Security Council statement did not use the term of “coup” as the 2008 Constitution under which the country is governed has an article allowing the military to declare a state of emergency if the unity of the country is menaced. It is this article that the military used in this case. We will return in a later article on the drafting of the 2008 Constitution.
It is still too early to know how strong popular resistance to the military action will be. Some civil disobedience campaigns are being planned, and there are already some anti-military demonstrations, often led by students or young people. The situation in Myanmar merits watching closely.