Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to have a briefing and hold consultations on the situation in Rakhine. The presidential statement on the situation adopted on 6 November requested the Secretary-General to brief on developments 30 days after the adoption.
Any further Council action will depend on its assessment of developments over the last month.
Key Recent Developments
On 25 August, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked Myanmar security forces at a number of locations. Government forces responded with violence to these attacks, and more than 600,000 Rohingya subsequently fled across the border into Bangladesh. A report of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released on 11 October and based on interviews conducted with Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in September, concluded that the attacks against Rohingya were “well-organised, coordinated, and systematic”. It said that “these human rights violations were committed against the Rohingya population in northern Rakhine State by the Myanmar security forces often in concert with armed Rakhine Buddhist individuals.”
The Council has followed the situation closely since the end of August. Secretary-General António Guterres briefed the Council on 28 September at the request of Egypt, France, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Senegal, the UK and the US. Guterres had written a letter to the president of the Council on 2 September expressing his deep concern about the security, humanitarian and human rights situation in Rakhine State, and warning that the situation could degenerate into a humanitarian catastrophe with implications for peace and security beyond Myanmar’s borders. During his 28 September briefing, Guterres conveyed three key messages: the need for an end to the violence whether by the military or by radical elements within communities; immediate and safe humanitarian access to affected communities for UN agencies and non-governmental partners; and the safe and voluntary return of those who have fled the country.
Besides the 28 September public briefing, the Council had several other meetings on the situation in Rakhine in September. It held three briefings under “any other business” as well as meetings on the margins of the General Assembly high-level debate. Following a briefing by Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman on 13 September, Council members agreed on elements to the press expressing concern over reports of excessive violence by security forces, calling for “immediate steps to end the violence in Rakhine, de-escalate the situation, re-establish law and order, ensure the protection of civilians, restore normal socioeconomic conditions and resolve the refugee problem” as well as for the government to facilitate humanitarian assistance.
On 13 October, an Arria-formula meeting was held on Myanmar, initiated by France and the UK. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan briefed in his capacity as the Chair of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was mandated to make recommendations for improving the situation in the state with regard to conflict prevention, humanitarian assistance, reconciliation, institution-building and development. The Advisory Commission, which published its final report on 23 August, was established at the request of the State Counsellor of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, and comprised both Myanmar and international commissioners.
Following a failed attempt to get agreement on a draft resolution in October, on 6 November the Council adopted a presidential statement on the situation in Myanmar. The statement condemned the 25 August attacks and the widespread violence that followed, called on the government to ensure no further excessive use of military force in Rakhine State, and stressed the importance of full humanitarian access and the voluntary return of all internally displaced persons to their homes. It also called on the government to address the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine State and welcomed the government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on the Rakhine State. It requested the Secretary-General to continue to provide his good offices and encouraged him to consider appointing a special adviser on Myanmar. (For details on the negotiations on the draft, please see our 6 November What’s in Blue story.)
The 31st ASEAN Summit was held from 13-14 November in Manila. The Chair’s statement issued following the leaders’ meeting made reference to ASEAN’s role in providing humanitarian assistance in Rakhine and urged Myanmar to continue to implement the recommendations of the final report of the Advisory Commission. During the ASEAN-UN Summit, Secretary-General Guterres voiced concern over the “worrying escalation of a protracted tragedy” and said that it had potential to cause instability and radicalisation in the region. He met State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on the margins of the meeting.
On 23 October, a donor conference co-hosted by the EU and Kuwait in Geneva raised $344 million to fund critical relief programmes for Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh.
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an “arrangement” on 23 November for the return of Rohingya who had fled to Bangladesh. UNHCR said that it would welcome a framework that enables refuges to exercise their right to return in line with international standards. It stressed that returns must be voluntary, and “take place in safe and dignified conditions that pave the way for lasting solutions”. It also said that currently conditions were not in place in Rakhine State for safe and sustainable returns.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 8 September, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, submitted her report to the General Assembly. Presenting her report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly on 26 October, Lee condemned the widespread use of hate speech against the Rohingyas and other communities, stressing that it amounted to incitement to hostility and even violence. The statement also expressed concern about how long it would take the government to establish conditions for the “safe and dignified” return of the Rohingyas. She expressed the hope that the Council would pass a strong resolution recognising that the crisis in Rakhine State has been decades in the making and has gone beyond Myanmar’s border.
On 27 October, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar established by Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution 34/22 issued a press release at the conclusion of their first fact-finding mission in Bangladesh. The three experts said they were “deeply disturbed” by accounts of killings, torture, rape, arson and aerial attacks reportedly perpetrated against the Rohingya community in Myanmar. If the Mission concludes that there have been violations, it will seek to ensure full accountability for perpetrators and justice for the victims, the press release said. The Mission has so far not been granted access to Myanmar and is required to submit an interim report to the HRC in March 2018.
The Human Rights Council will hold a Special Session on the situation of human rights of the Rohingya and other minorities in Rakhine State in Myanmar on 5 December 2017 at the request of Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.
On 16 November, the Third Committee voted on a resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar, which had been initiated by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and presented by Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Egypt had also spearheaded the negotiations on the draft text. The resolution passed with 135 states voting for, 10 voting against, and 26 abstaining. Among those that voted against were China and Russia, as well as ASEAN members Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines and Viet Nam. Among those that abstained were Council members Ethiopia and Japan and ASEAN members Singapore and Thailand. The resolution is expected to be voted on in the General Assembly in early December. A key request in the resolution was for the Secretary-General to appoint a special envoy on Myanmar. (There had been either a Special Envoy or Special Adviser on Myanmar from 2000, but at the end of 2016 the General Assembly chose not to renew the position.)
Issues and Options
The main issue is for the Council to be able to monitor progress on its requests for an end to the violence, humanitarian access, and the voluntary return of internally displaced persons. Instituting regular briefings by a Special Envoy, as well as other relevant UN officials such as the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representatives on Sexual Violence and Children and Armed Conflict, would allow the Council to be kept informed on developments. Informal meetings such as Arria-formula meetings could also be used to hear from a wider range of actors.
A related issue is the timing for further action from the Council, and the options for such action. Any further deterioration in the situation in Rakhine, or signs of violence against Rohingya still within Myanmar, could be a signal for the need for a resolution that might include the possibility of targeted sanctions. If there are signs of genuine progress, the Council could respond with encouragement.
The Council might consider a visiting mission to Myanmar, Bangladesh and the region, coordinating with the intentions of the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy regarding the exercise of his good offices.
Securing agreement to UN involvement in developing a framework for the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced people in accordance with international standards may require Council pressure.
The Council, having welcomed the Goverment of Myanmar’s public commitment to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission, might consider what it can do to promote this and to pursue its call for the root causes of the crisis to be addressed.
While the Council actively followed developments in Myanmar between 2006, when the issue was added to the Council’s agenda, and 2010, it began to pay less attention to the situation following positive developments in the political process in 2012. In the last few years Myanmar has been discussed only during informal consultations under “any other business”. Although the situation in Rakhine has been part of these informal briefings in the last few years, Council members did not appear to feel the need to focus attention on the situation. Until the current crisis, the last formal Council discussion on Myanmar was held on 13 July 2009. The adoption of a presidential statement and agreement on a public briefing marks a shift in the Council’s passive approach to this situation in recent years.
It seems that the deteriorating situation in Myanmar, together with the number of Council members pushing for a strong response, may have persuaded China, which from the time the issue came onto the agenda has generally been reluctant to have the Council focus on it, of the need for the Council to act. China made it clear that a resolution would not be acceptable but eventually agreed to a presidential statement based on a modified version of the draft resolution text. Russia, which has been supportive of China on this issue, did not offer any resistance once China was open to a presidential statement.
While the P3 were active in the past in pushing for the release of prisoners and a transparent political process, they have been supportive of the Myanmar government in recent years and less inclined to be critical. However, the developments after the 25 August incident led France and the UK, the penholder on this issue, to press for an outcome. Other members including Sweden and Council members that are also members of the OIC—Egypt, Kazakhstan and Senegal—also played an active role in getting the Council to focus on the situation in Rakhine.
UN Documents on Myanmar
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|6 November 2017 S/PRST/2017/22||This was a presidential statement on the situation in the Rakhine.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|28 September 2017 S/PV.8060||UN Secretary-General António Guterres briefed the Council on the crisis in Myanmar at the request of Egypt, France, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.|
|General Assembly Documents|
|31 October 2017 A/C.3/72/L.48||This was the resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar adopted by the Third Committee.|
|8 September 2017 A/72/382||This was the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.|