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Myanmar and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

The present crisis in Myanmar demands unequivocally to be treated as an R2P one - as were the early periods of one-sided repression of peaceful dissent in Libya and Syria. It cries out for more robust UN Security Council action than just a presidential statement, useful as that was (and pleasing as it was to see its non-blocking by China and Russia). External military intervention, even if China or Russia could be persuaded not to veto it, is not a credible option – in terms both of availability of willing interveners, and relevant prudential criteria. But the rest of the R2P reaction toolbox certainly should be, including not only more naming and shaming, but UN-endorsed targeted sanctions, embargoes, and threats of ICC prosecution.

Unfortunately none of this is likely to be decisive. Internal dynamics rather than any kind of external pressure I can think of (except a serious intervention by China) will be the key: the hope must be that the military will either split apart, or come to recognise that the country has simply become ungovernable and will become even more so until they step back. But of course the international community cannot credibly just stand by and do nothing: at the very least. This kind of UN-led international response would give the opposition forces continued heart, and make the Tatmadaw understand their friendlessness in the wider world even if they, for now, think they can stare that down.

What also has to be at least thought about is something that, right now, nobody on either side is willing to even begin to contemplate – i.e. some kind of military-face-saving compromise, negotiated by the UN or, more likely, key ASEAN players including Indonesia, whereby things return to something like the status quo ante. That is not the revolution that the population want, need and deserve. But if the military refuses to divide and crumble enough for that to happen, it would beat the hell out of another catastrophic 1988-scale massacre.

Gareth Evans Australian Foreign Minister 1988-96; President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group; Co-Chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty; author of The Responsibility to Protect.: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All (Brookings, 2008); Chair, International Advisory Board, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

This was first posted on the website of Global Reconciliation Forums - aidXchange on 21 March 2021