Debate over Myanmar upends start to UN rights body session


GENEVA — The U.N.’s top human rights body opened its latest session on Monday and was immediately embroiled in a debate over the representation of Myanmar, where a military takeover toppled the civilian government in February.

Western countries said that two planned debates about the human rights situation in Myanmar at the Human Rights Council’s 3-1/2 week session should go forward, even without the country represented. But China, the Philippines and Venezuela insisted it should be on hand.

Myanmar hasn’t been represented at the U.N. in Geneva since the civilian government’s ambassador left after the junta took over. The U.N. General Assembly’s credentials committee is facing a decision about which representation of Myanmar will be recognized.

“If we exclude the country concerned, this is not fair,” said Ambassador Chen Xu of China, urging the debates on Myanmar to be put off until the council’s next session in September.

But Western envoys insisted the rights situation in Myanmar was urgent, notably over alleged rights violations such as those suffered by the Muslim Rohingya minority and — more recently — protesters against the military takeover who have faced a deadly crackdown.

“We recognize that we are dealing with an unusual set of circumstances that have not arisen before,” said Rita French, Britain’s international ambassador for human rights. “But we need to be guided by relevant practice of what has happened before.”

“The reason why two dialogues were mandated just a few months ago is because there is a human rights crisis in Myanmar,” she said.

Envoys agreed to maintain the council’s schedule that includes the two debates on Myanmar. But the council president, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji, acknowledged her office would continue to assess whether they would proceed, and said the plans could still change.

Pressure has been growing against Myanmar’s military. In a rare move, the U.N. General Assembly on Friday condemned the takeover and called for an arms embargo against the country in a resolution that demanded the restoration of the country’s democratic transition.

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