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Demonstrators protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: Reuters

Why the UN should recognise Myanmar’s National Unity Government, not the junta

  • The junta has inflicted what the UN rapporteur has called a ‘brute force reign of terror’. More than a thousand people have been killed, six thousand detained and 230,000 displaced
  • Voting for the NUG would send a powerful signal that the UN stands for human rights and the will of the people
The UN General Assembly is due to consider an issue in the coming weeks that will profoundly affect the lives of 55 million people in Myanmar.

Its Credentials Committee will debate whether to accept the credentials of the junta that seized power on February 1, or those of the National Unity Government (NUG), made up of elected representatives whose parties won a landslide victory in elections last November.

We, the undersigned legal scholars, recommend that the junta’s credentials be rejected.

The junta has inflicted on its own people what the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar has called “a brute force reign of terror”, likely amounting to crimes against humanity.

Over one thousand people have been killed and over six thousand have been arbitrarily detained, including elected parliamentarians, with many tortured to death in detention.

Armed conflict has intensified, displacing 230,000 people. The country is now experiencing a major humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.


Buddhist monks in Myanmar divided over military coup

Buddhist monks in Myanmar divided over military coup

Accepting the military junta’s credentials would entrench the regime further, giving a green light for continued repression and potentially undermining international and regional mediation efforts.

Conversely, accepting the NUG’s credentials would send a powerful signal that the United Nations stands firmly in support of democracy and human rights, and efforts to resolve Myanmar’s crisis through peaceful dialogue.

It would also be consistent with the resolution adopted overwhelmingly by the General Assembly in June, condemning the coup and calling on the Myanmar military to “respect the people’s will”.

There is a sound legal case for the General Assembly to take this course of action, based on historical precedents.

Call for ‘defensive war’ against Myanmar’s junta sparks alarm

In the last three decades, the General Assembly has consistently refused to accept the credentials of regimes that have come to power by overthrowing democratically elected governments, in violation of national constitutions, as the military junta has in Myanmar.

The General Assembly has increasingly been willing to approve the credentials of governments and groups even where they lacked effective control of the entire territory of the state.

Neither the NUG nor the junta is in effective control of all Myanmar, though the NUG, supported by ethnic nationalities’ parties, is in effective control of more territory than the regime.

In the General Assembly, respect for international human rights standards and the extent to which states represent the will of the people have also been important considerations.


Myanmar military coup hampers fight against country’s biggest wave of Covid-19

Myanmar military coup hampers fight against country’s biggest wave of Covid-19

In the case of Haiti, despite the military junta wielding effective control, in 1991, 1992 and 1993 the General Assembly accepted without objection the credentials submitted by the representative of the ousted government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In 1997 the credentials of the government of deposed Sierra Leonean president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, were accepted without objection.

Similarly in 2009 following the coup in Honduras, the General Assembly accepted the credentials of the constitutional government and left its ambassador in his seat.

In the case of Libya, the assembly accepted the credentials of the opposition National Transitional Council in 2011, even though it was not in effective control.

We believe there are compelling legal arguments to accept the credentials of the NUG.

It is appointed by members of parliament decisively elected in elections last November. The NUG’s founding document, the Federal Democracy Charter, lays out a road map for a democratic government, and commits the NUG to diversity and the inclusion of all ethnic nationality groups.

Anti-coup demonstrators hold shields featuring pictures of Myanmar's military junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing in Yangon. Photo: Reuters

The NUG is working closely with civil society groups, the Civil Disobedience Movement and representatives of ethnic nationality areas. It has announced the formation of the People’s Defence Force to defend the population against military violence and as a “prelude to establishing a Federal Union Army”.

Accepting the NUG’s credentials gives the General Assembly a historic opportunity to act decisively in support of the founding principles of the UN.

Moreover, a vote for the NUG would send a powerful signal to the people of Myanmar that UN member states have not forgotten their plight and stand with them.

Justice Richard J. Goldstone is the founding Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda

This article is co-signed by: Rebecca Barber, Research Fellow, Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect; William Bourdon, lawyer at the Paris Bar; John Dugard, Emeritus Professor of Law, Universities of Leiden and the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; Baltasar Garzon, magistrate-judge, lawyer; Jared Genser, Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Centre; Justice Richard J. Goldstone, founding Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda; Aryeh Neier, President Emeritus, Open Society Foundations, founding Executive Director, Human Rights Watch; Dr Sriprapha Petcharamesree, former Thai Representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights; Chris Sidoti, member of the Special Adviser Council For Myamar, former member of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar; Nelum Deepika Udagama, Professor of Law, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka and former Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka; Yuyun Wahyuningrum, representative of Indonesia to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights