UN chief decries global ‘epidemic of coups' as governments are toppled

Putsch leaders can seize power with impunity in a polarised world, Antonio Guterres says

Sudan's Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan speaks during a press conference after the military took power in the country. AFP
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned on Tuesday of an “epidemic of coups” upending efforts of moving towards democratic governance globally, as Sudan’s military consolidated its power grab from earlier this week.

Speaking with reporters in New York, the UN chief blasted the overthrow of Sudan’s civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok by the military on Monday, saying it was part of a worrying global trend towards authoritarianism in a fractured world.

Military takeovers have become a hallmark of 2021, with the governments of Sudan, Chad, Guinea, Mali and Myanmar all having been ousted in the past 10 months.

Mr Guterres blamed “strong geopolitical divides”, the failure of UN Security Council members to take “strong measures” amid differences between the US, China and other members and economic challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“These three factors are creating an environment in which some military leaders feel that they have total impunity, they can do whatever they want, because nothing will happen to them,” said Mr Guterres.

“My appeal, obviously, is for especially the big powers to come together for the unity of the Security Council, in order to make sure that there is effective deterrence in relation to this epidemic of coups d'état.”

The UN Security Council was set to meet behind closed doors later on Tuesday to discuss the overthrow and arrest of Mr Hamdok and other civilian leaders, which brought a sudden halt to Sudan's transition to democracy.

Sudan's army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan said the military takeover "is not" a coup and that he and other generals had tried unsuccessfully to “make every concession” to defuse tensions with their civilian partners in the country's transitional government.

But expectations were low from the 15-nation body. Permanent members China and Russia blocked the council from censuring Myanmar’s military following its takeover of the country on February 1. Moscow and Beijing tend to be against interference in domestic issues.

“We have seen that effective deterrence today is not in place,” said Mr Guterres.

“We have seen it in Myanmar and we have also seen it in several African locations.”

Updated: October 26, 2021, 4:14 PM