November 2007 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 October 2007
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ASIA

Myanmar

Expected Council Action
The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari is expected to brief the Council again in November after his visit to Myanmar (which at press time was expected in early November).

Council action is expected to depend on what is achieved during his visit. Progress, such as the opening of a genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and the release of significant numbers of political prisoners, could lead to a positive presidential statement noting progress made. However, if there is little concrete evidence of movement on the benchmarks established in the Council’s 11 October statement and the Human Rights Council’s resolution of 2 October, stronger action is likely.

Key Recent Developments
Following Gambari’s 5 October briefing, the Council adopted its first presidential statement on Myanmar on 11 October. This reaffirmed strong support for the Secretary-General’s good offices mission and strongly deplored the use of violence against peaceful demonstrations. It emphasised the early release of political prisoners and outlined what the Council expected of the government, including genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, all concerned parties and ethnic groups. It called on the government to address political, economic, humanitarian and human rights issues and to seriously consider Gambari’s recommendations and proposals. Myanmar said that it “regretted” the presidential statement as the situation in Myanmar did not harm regional or international peace and stability.

The Secretary-General then sent Gambari back to Asia. Commencing 13 October, he visited Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, China and Japan and was expected in Myanmar in early November. He asked ASEAN countries to work with him to deliver concrete results and urged India and China to push Myanmar harder for reform.

Myanmar’s foreign minister, Nyan Win, confirmed on 19 October, in a letter to the Secretary-General, that a visit by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, was acceptable. This followed a decision of the Human Rights Council in Geneva requesting Pinheiro to seek an urgent visit to Myanmar and urging Myanmar to cooperate with him. Pinheiro will report to the Human Rights Council on 11 December. This is the first time in four years that Pinheiro, appointed in 2001, has been given permission to visit Myanmar.

Myanmar continued arresting protestors in October. It acknowledged detaining nearly 3000 people although many reports suggest the actual numbers detained and killed are much higher. Human rights groups believe that over 1,500 remain in detention while extrajudicial executions and torture are widespread. On 20 October the curfew in Yangon was lifted.

After Gambari’s visit in early September, Myanmar’s leader, General Than Shwe, said that he was willing to meet Aung San Suu Kyi if she gave up calls for sanctions. The government appointed a liaison officer to build “smooth relations” with her. On 25 October she was allowed out of her house to meet with him.

On 18 October, the government announced the appointment of a 54-member constitutional drafting committee as the next step on its road map to democracy. Some see this as a setback for inclusive dialogue as it cements government control over the process.

On 19 October, the US added more military leaders to its sanctions list and tightened further sanctions on US exports. The EU also tightened sanctions, banning imports of Burmese timber, gemstones and precious metals.

Responding to events in September and the death of a Japanese photographer during the demonstrations, Japan froze $4.7 million of aid.

While also supporting stronger EU sanctions, the UK offered an incentive by suggesting an economic recovery package if the government moves towards a democratisation process. Gambari also suggested that incentives could help push the Myanmar government to move in the right direction.

Regional leaders at the ASEAN Summit, ASEAN-India and the ASEAN-East Asian (China, Japan and Republic of Korea) summits in November are expected to discuss Myanmar.

Related Developments in the Human Rights Council
On 2 October during a special session, the Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution:

  • strongly deploring repression of peaceful demonstrations;
  • calling for an investigation into human rights violations during the period of unrest;
  • urging the release of detainees and political prisoners and lifting restraints on peaceful political activity and assembly; and
  • urging national dialogue with all parties and genuine political reconciliation.

Options
The Council has several procedural options in addition to the briefing from Gambari. It could:

  • request the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Pinheiro to brief the Council after his November visit to Myanmar;
  • consider an Arria-style meeting to obtain feedback from NGOs on the situation in Myanmar (both Gambari and Pinheiro could be involved in such a meeting);
  • invite the chair of ASEAN to participate in a dialogue with Council members, either in a closed formal session or an informal Arria-style meeting; and
  • invite Myanmar to a dialogue in a closed Council meeting or an informal Arria-style meeting.

Options on substance could include:

  • requesting the Secretary-General to convene a core group comprising some Council members, key Asian countries and other interested parties to work with Gambari on the details of a credible reform process for Myanmar;
  • establishing a joint Council/ASEAN group to support a serious process of dialogue between the Myanmar government and opposition parties; and
  • inviting the Secretary-General to locate his Special Envoy in Southeast Asia to engage in discussions with the Myanmar government for a specified period of time.

A presidential statement conveying a combination of carrots and sticks to encourage the authorities in Myanmar to work with the UN is also an option.

Key Issues
A key issue for the Council is how to establish a productive dialogue with Myanmar on a genuine process of dialogue and reconciliation. There have been some small concessions since Gambari’s first visit, but it is still unclear whether Myanmar is serious about concrete action.

A related issue is how the Council sustains momentum and continues speaking with one voice. The October presidential statement projected a united Council position and maintaining cohesion for maximum impact is an ongoing issue.

Another issue is how to support and strengthen the Secretary-General’s good offices.

Council and Wider Dynamics
The presidential statement which was agreed to by all members is seen by all Council members as a significant development. Some members not previously inclined to have the Council discuss Myanmar played a constructive role, even producing constructive alternative language to help negotiations. Council members particularly welcomed Indonesia’s role, since, as a member of ASEAN, it is in a strong position to contribute positively. Indonesia has indicated interest in being part of a potential core group and is able to share its own experiences of democratisation.

Others, such as the UK, US and France are also concerned about maintaining pressure on the Myanmar government and not let the issue slip from the agenda. China’s underlying position that the situation is not really a threat to international peace remains, and it is still resistant to imposing sanctions. Still, it is likely, if Myanmar does not show any signs of genuine reconciliation in the next few weeks, some members will press for stronger action.

ASEAN members are also sceptical about sanctions at this stage. They believe sanctions cannot work in practice and that engagement must continue. Like China and India, ASEAN is concerned about civil war and ethnic conflict if the regime were to collapse rapidly. ASEAN does not at this stage feel able to take the lead but is more inclined to play an active supporting role. India, like China, seems to prefer to work behind the scenes.

UN Documents

Presidential Statement
  • S/PRST/2007/37 (11 October 2007) was the presidential statement strongly deploring the use of violence against demonstrations and emphasising the importance of early release of prisoners.
Selected Letters
  • S/2007/591 (5 October 2007) was the letter from Japanese permanent representative to the UN conveying Japan’s position on developments in Myanmar.
  • S/2007/590 (3 October 2007) was the letter from US permanent representative to the UN requesting an urgent meeting of the Council to discuss Myanmar.
Draft Resolution
  • S/2007/14 (12 January 2007) was the draft resolution vetoed by China and Russia.
Selected Council Debates
  • S/PV.5757 (11 October 2007) was agreement on the presidential statement.
  • S/PV.5753 (5 October 2007) was the record of the discussion following the crackdown in Myanmar.
  • S/PV.5526 (15 September 2006) was the record of the discussion before putting the provisional agenda, that included the situation on Myanmar, to the vote.
Other
  • A/HRC/S-5/L.1/Rev. 1 (2 October 2007) was a Human Rights Council resolution strongly deploring repression of peaceful demonstrations.
  • S/Agenda/5526 (15 September 2006) was the provisional agenda for the meeting that added Myanmar to the Council agenda.
  • A/RES/59/263 (23 December 2004) requested the Secretary-General to provide his good offices and pursue his discussions with the government and people of Myanmar.

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