February 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2019
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ASIA

Myanmar

Expected Council Action

The Council anticipates a possible briefing in February on the situation in Myanmar from Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener, who visited the country at the end of January. There may also be interest in hearing from UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who are both planning to visit Myanmar in the coming weeks. 

Key Recent Developments

In consultations on 16 January, Council members were briefed on Myanmar by Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, Grandi, and Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific for the UN Development Programme Haoliang Xu. Fighting between armed separatists and the national security forces has been ongoing for several months, but the 4 January attack on four military border posts by the Arakan Army, a separatist group demanding greater autonomy for Rakhine State, signalled an escalation of the violence.

On 24 October 2018, Marzuki Darusman, chair of the fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Council (HRC), briefed the Security Council on the mission’s report. Among its findings was that Myanmar security forces had committed what amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity in their treatment of several ethnic and religious minorities in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States and that there was sufficient information regarding the treatment of the Rohingya ethnic group in Rakhine State for senior officials in the Tatmadaw to be investigated to determine their liability for genocide.

The meeting had been requested on 16 October by nine members of the Council—Côte d’Ivoire, France, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden, the US and the UK. On 18 October, Bolivia, China, Equatorial Guinea and Russia responded with a letter to the president of the Council expressing their objection to such a briefing on the grounds that there was no precedent for a briefing from an HRC special mechanism on a country-specific issue, and that it was not within the mission’s mandate. The provisional agenda was put to a vote, and received nine votes in favour, three votes against, and three abstentions. In the briefing, Darusman stressed the importance of accountability and urged the Council to impose sanctions against those responsible for serious crimes under international law. He also called for the Council’s support for an independent inquiry into UN involvement in Myanmar since 2011.

Burgener visited Myanmar from 19 to 28 January. During her visit she met with government ministers, Rakhine State government officials, political parties, humanitarian agencies, and civil society. Among the issues covered were plans to develop the state freedom of movement in Rakhine State. She also visited displacement camps that have housed Rohingya Muslims since 2012 and visited Rakhine and Hindu refugee camps in Sittwe. She also met representatives of the Tatmadaw.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In a statement on 18 January, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed alarm over escalating violence in northern and central Rakhine state and in Chin state. Since November 2018 the Myanmar military has been engaged in heavy fighting, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians and the displacement of 5,000 people, the statement said. Lee called for full and unfettered humanitarian access to the region following a 10 January order by the Rakhine State government blocking humanitarian activities of international agencies in several areas.

Issues and Options

Key issues include:

  • the lack of appropriate conditions for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh;
  • restricted access in Rakhine state, affecting the provision of humanitarian aid;
  • the need for full implementation of the memorandum of understanding between the Myanmar government, UNDP and UNHCR, as well as of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on the Rakhine State, which was established at the request of the State Counsellor of Myanmar, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and mandated to make recommendations to improve the situation in Rakhine State; and
  • addressing accountability issues.

The Council could consider a visiting mission, possibly of a sub-group of its members, to assess developments since its visit in April-May 2018. It could also consider a resolution setting out a regular reporting cycle which could provide for more regular Council oversight.

A briefing by Burgener and others who have visited the region can inform the Council of the impact of the increased instability in Rakhine state on efforts to repatriate Rohingya refugees and on the national peace process, which are of concern to members. Briefers will also be able to provide an update on any progress made in the implementation of the trilateral MOU.

An issue is the Myanmar government’s reluctance to work with the Council. Whether it might be useful to have greater involvement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in working with the Myanmar government on humanitarian assistance and repatriation of refugees may be worth consideration.

Council Dynamics

Council members appear open to hearing from the Special Envoy and others who have recently visited Myanmar. However, agreement on a robust product may be more difficult. In December 2018, Council members were negotiating a draft resolution on Myanmar that would have set out a regular reporting cycle on the implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission and progress in investigations of alleged human rights violations. However, China and Russia did not engage on the resolution, and the UK, the penholder on Myanmar, decided in late December not to table the draft for a vote. While it is not off the table, it is unclear when the UK, which has pursued a policy of incremental pressure on this issue, will take it up again.

It is too early to say how the change in the Council’s composition might affect support for its more active engagement on Myanmar. While China is seen as having the potential to play a key role, given its geographic proximity and its more active role in the peace process, its position has been that the Council should not get too involved, and it is likely to continue to advocate a bilateral approach to the repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh.

Among those who joined the Council in January, Indonesia is in the unique position of being a member of ASEAN, which includes Myanmar. It brings a deep understanding of the Myanmar situation to the Council, but its association with ASEAN could also be a complicating factor. Indonesia and Kuwait are also members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which has called for the protection of the rights of the Rohingya. 

UN DOCUMENTS ON MYANMAR

Security Council Presidential Statements
6 November 2017S/PRST/2017/22 This was a presidential statement on the situation in the Rakhine.
Secretary-General’s Reports
29 October 2018S/2018/956 This was the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Myanmar.
31 January 2019
Security Council Letters
29 October 2018S/2018/956 This was the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Myanmar.
16 October 2018S/2018/926 This was a letter from nine Council members, requesting a briefing by the Chairperson of the Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission.
Security Council Meeting Records
24 October 2018S/PV.8381 Marzuki Darusman, the chair of the Independent International Fact‑Finding Mission on Myanmar, briefed the Council on the Mission’s 27 August report.
Human Rights Council Documents
12 September 2018A/HRC/39/64 This was the report of the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar.