Arrests, Military Control ‘a Serious Blow’ to Democratic Reforms in Myanmar: UN Chief

Human Wrongs Watch

1 February 2021 (UN News)*The United Nations Secretary-General has strongly condemned the detention of top political leaders and government officials, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint in Myanmar, by the country’s military. 

Unsplash/Kyle Petzer | A pagoda at dawn in downtown Yangon, the commercial hub of Myanmar.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson on Sunday [31 January 2021], Secretary-General António Guterres also voiced “grave concern” regarding the declaration of the transfer of all legislative, executive and judicial powers to the military.

“These developments represent a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar”, the statement said. 

Volkan Bozkir, President of the UN General Assembly, also voiced concerns over the situation in Myanmar. 

“Attempts to undermine democracy and rule of law are unacceptable”, he said in a Tweet, calling for the “immediate release” of detained political leaders. 

The UN Secretary-General urges the military leadership to respect the will of the people of Myanmar and adhere to democratic norms

Steady rise in tensions 

The detentions and the seizure of power took place hours before the opening session of Myanmar’s new Parliament.  

They followed days of escalating tensions between the government and the military in the aftermath of last November’s general elections

Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) claimed an overwhelming victory in the polls, securing over 80 per cent of the seats, according to media reports. However, the military and some political parties disputed the results, alleging that the polls were marred by irregularities. 

November’s polls were only the second democratic elections in Myanmar since the end of nearly five decades of military rule. The first elections, in 2015, were also won by NLD. 

‘Respect will of the people’ 

In the statement, the UN chief called on Myanmar’s military leadership to “respect the will of the people and adhere to democratic norms”, and to resolve any differences through peaceful dialogue. 

“The 8 November 2020 general elections provide a strong mandate to the NLD, reflecting the clear will of the people of Myanmar to continue on the hard-won path of democratic reform”, the statement noted. 

“All leaders must act in the greater interest of Myanmar’s democratic reform, engaging in meaningful dialogue, refraining from violence and fully respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms”, it said. 

The Secretary-General also reaffirmed the “unwavering support of the United Nations to the people of Myanmar in their pursuit of democracy, peace, human rights and the rule of law”, the statement added. 


ICJ/Frank van Beek | Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar, is among the leaders arrested by the country’s military shortly before it took control of all legislative, executive and judicial powers on 1 February 2021. (file photo)

Pre-dawn raids 

According to media reports, the detentions started in the early hours of Monday (local time), with political leaders held in Yangon and other cities across Myanmar, and soldiers said to be out on the streets and at prominent landmarks. 

Mobile phones, telephones and internet are also reported to have been cut in capital Nay Pyi Taw and the commercial hub of Yangon.

The military also imposed a state of emergency for a year, it announced on a military-run television station. According to media reports, other national and international television channels, and radio are offline.

Many automated teller machines (ATMs) and banks are also reportedly shut, prompting long queues of people trying to withdraw money at the ones still open.


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