Expected Council Action
In July, Council members expect to hold consultations on Myanmar. Possible briefers include the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who was in Myanmar from 12 to 21 June, and High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
Key Recent Developments
Members of the Council visited Bangladesh and Myanmar from 28 April to 2 May. Following the visit, on 9 May, Council members agreed on a press statement that encouraged increased support to the Bangladesh government and urged access for UN agencies to Rakhine state and the conclusion of a tripartite memorandum of understanding (MOU) among UNHCR, the UNDP, and the Government of Myanmar. It also urged the Myanmar government to hold accountable perpetrators of violence.
The Council was briefed on 14 May by Ambassadors Mansour Al-Otaibi (Kuwait), Gustavo Meza-Cuadra Velásquez (Peru) and Karen Pierce (UK), the three co-leads on the visiting mission. During consultations that followed, Grandi briefed by video teleconference.
On 1 June, the president of the Council sent letters to the permanent representatives of Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Secretary-General on the Rohingya situation. The letter to Myanmar, which asked for a response within 30 days, highlighted the need for concrete action in three areas: access for UN agencies, the need for an independent investigation into alleged human rights violations, and full implementation of the report of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, which was mandated to make recommendations to improve the situation in Rakhine State. The letter to Bangladesh expressed the Council’s gratitude to the Bangladesh government and people for providing protection to the refugees and its determination to continue supporting the Bangladesh government in providing assistance to them. The Secretary-General’s letter encouraged him to remain personally engaged and continue to provide his good offices. It also requested that the UN continue to provide assistance to Bangladesh in handling the refugee situation and to Myanmar in implementing the Council’s 6 November 2017 presidential statement.
UNHCR and UNDP signed the tripartite MOU with Myanmar on 6 June. The MOU, which took about four months to negotiate, is seen as the first step in establishing a framework for cooperation between the UN and the Myanmar government regarding the repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh. Although the details of the MOU were not made public, it seems that it will give UNHCR and UNDP access to Rakhine state, allowing them to assess whether conditions are conducive to voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation.
On 31 May, the Myanmar government announced that it was launching an independent commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations and related issues following the 25 August attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on security posts. The commission will be composed of three members, including an international representative. The Myanmar government has characterised the commission as a “national initiative to address reconciliation, peace, stability and development”, but civil society groups have criticised it as inadequate and an attempt to deflect real justice. A Human Rights Council fact-finding mission created in 2017 has not been allowed into Myanmar.
During her visit to Myanmar, Burgener met with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, as well as senior members of government, Rakhine state officials, internally displaced persons (IDPs), civil society organisations, religious leaders, and members of the diplomatic community. Among the areas discussed were the situation in Rakhine state and the peace process.
According to OCHA, there are about 240,000 IDPs in camps in Kachin, Kayin, Shan and Rakhine states, and $183.4 million, of which about 40 percent has been funded, is needed to address humanitarian needs in Myanmar.
Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh continue to face a possible humanitarian catastrophe when the peak monsoon season arrives in July. UNHCR and its partners are preparing for the monsoons in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where Myanmar refugees could be severely affected. Families deemed to be at greatest risk have been relocated to higher ground, but 80,000 people remain vulnerable to flooding and 23,000 to landslides.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has asked Myanmar to submit written observations by 27 July on whether the court has jurisdiction and the circumstances around the alleged deportation of Rohingya civilians from Myanmar into Bangladesh. Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has asked the judges to look into the crime of deportation, and possible prosecution based on its territorial jurisdiction over Bangladesh, which is an ICC member, unlike Myanmar.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 1 May statement, special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed grave concern over a sharp escalation in hostilities in Kachin state, where at least ten civilians were killed, several were wounded, and thousands have been forced to flee their homes. Lee said in the statement that she had received reports that the military had carried out aerial bombings and used heavy weapons and artillery fire against civilian areas. In a 15 May press briefing, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about the escalation in attacks by military forces and armed groups in Kachin and Shan states. According to the spokesperson, some 7,400 people had been internally displaced since early April, adding to the 100,000 already displaced. During its 38th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue with Lee on 27 June. At press time, the HRC was expected to adopt a resolution at the end of the session, renewing the mandate of the special rapporteur for an additional year.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is to continue to engage with the Myanmar government in order to encourage concrete measures to address issues around the return of Rohingya refugees. Following the recent signing of the MOU, a related issue is the timely and full implementation of the MOU and how the Council can support this. One option would be regular briefings from the Special Envoy in order to monitor progress.
Council members saw clearly in Cox’s Bazar the effect of sexual violence on women and the impact of the violence on children. There may be interest in briefings from the Special Representatives on Children and Armed Conflict and Sexual Violence in Conflict in this regard, particularly as both have visited the region recently.
There are a number of important issues related to the return of refugees from Bangladesh. An immediate issue is creating the conditions for a safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of refugees and building trust among stakeholders. Related to this is ensuring a fair investigation into allegations of human rights violations and that perpetrators be held accountable. An option is for the Council to continue to press the Myanmar government on its commitment to hold perpetrators to account, and push more publicly for cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. If little real action is taken, the Council may consider a resolution suggesting stronger measures, including a referral to the ICC or targeted sanctions.
A continuing issue is getting more funding for the humanitarian needs of the refugees in Bangladesh and the IDPs in Myanmar.
Full implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission’s recommendations continues to be an issue. This is closely linked with the need to address the root causes of the crisis, including issues around citizenship and poverty.
While the Council’s recent focus has been on the Rohingya situation, there are also issues around the peace process that the Council may need to remain alert to. If there are signs of deterioration in Kachin state the Council may wish to stress the need for a peaceful solution to the conflicts in other parts of the country during the briefing next month.
The negotiations over the press statement and the letter to the Myanmar government showed that while the experience of the visiting mission may have had a personal impact on Council members, some red lines remain. Adopting a resolution following the visit became unlikely after China and Russia made clear their view that with the visit, the press statement and the briefing on the visit, the Council had paid enough attention to Myanmar for the moment. In order to get agreement on the letter to Myanmar, the tone of the letter had to be softened, particularly regarding accountability. Sending it to the permanent representative rather than head of government was another necessary concession. However, even with the changes, it was felt that the letter allowed the Council to convey its principal concerns to the Myanmar government, including the importance of accountability and the involvement of the international community. There are still some who would like to see the Council take stronger action, particularly regarding accountability, and they may push for a resolution if there is little real progress made in the near future.
Members who returned from the visiting mission with renewed energy to address the Rohingya situation are keen to keep the spotlight on the issue and would like to have more regular updates on the situation.
The UK is the lead on Myanmar in the Council.
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 Press Statements|
|9 May 2018 SC/13331||This was a press statement on the Council visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|14 May 2018 S/PV.8255||This was a briefing on the Council’s visiting mission to Bangladesh and Myanmar from 28 April to 1 May.|
|13 February 2018 S/PV.8179||This was a briefing by High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi (via video teleconference) and Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča on the situation in Myanmar.|
|Security Council Letters|
|26 April 2018 S/2018/391||This was the letter on the terms of reference for the Council visiting mission to Bangladesh and Myanmar.|