Expected Council Action
In March, the Security Council is expected to receive an oral briefing on the UN’s support for the implementation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar from the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi may also brief. At the time of writing, the format of the meeting had not been confirmed.
Key Recent Developments
On 21 December 2022, the Council adopted resolution 2669 on Myanmar with 12 votes in favour and China, India, and Russia abstaining. The resolution demands an end to all forms of violence and urges restraint and de-escalation of tensions. It also calls for the release of all prisoners and expresses concern about violence across Myanmar, attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, and human rights abuses and violations. The resolution further requested a briefing from the Secretary-General or his Special Envoy, in coordination with ASEAN’s Special Envoy, on the UN’s support for the implementation of the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus by 15 March. (The Five-Point Consensus was adopted by ASEAN in April 2021 and called for an immediate cessation of violence, constructive dialogue among all parties, a special envoy of the ASEAN chair to facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, humanitarian assistance, and a visit to Myanmar by the ASEAN Special Envoy to meet all parties concerned).
Although the Five-Point Consensus was agreed almost two years ago, four of the five priorities are currently unmet or partially met. The only priority fully executed has been the appointment of the ASEAN special envoy, which has tended to be the foreign minister of the ASEAN chair. Indonesia, which assumed ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship for 2023 in January, appears to be taking this one step further by establishing an Office of the Special Envoy to Myanmar, headed by its foreign minister Retno Marsudi.
In remarks delivered during a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers that ran from 3 to 4 February, Marsudi reportedly acknowledged that the lack of progress “tests [ASEAN’s] credibility” and said that ASEAN’s future efforts will be coordinated with other countries and the UN. According to media reports, Indonesia has raised the possibility of appointing a military general as special envoy to Myanmar.
On 22 December 2022, Thailand hosted an informal regional meeting with three cabinet ministers from Myanmar’s military government. Representatives of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam participated in the meeting, while officials from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore did not attend.
The situation in Myanmar has continued to deteriorate since resolution 2669 was adopted. On 27 January, the Myanmar military issued the Political Party Registration Law, which introduced new requirements for political parties intending to compete in parliamentary elections. Prior to the announcement of the law, the military authorities had pledged to hold elections in August. Under the terms of the legislation, parties are required to have 100,000 members and at least 100 million kyat in funds (approximately USD$47,000) and must commit to running within 60 days in order to participate in the elections. According to Human Rights Watch, these requirements will make it “nearly impossible” for smaller parties to run. The law also disqualifies political groups declared as an “unlawful association or terrorist organisation under any existing law” from taking part in the elections. The National Unity Government (NUG)—an alliance of ousted politicians from the National League of Democracy (NLD), the opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, which won the November 2020 election—has been declared as a terrorist organisation by Myanmar’s military.
On 1 February, exactly two years after seizing power from the NLD, the military authorities announced an extension of the nationwide state of emergency for a further six months. Given that parliamentary elections cannot be held while a state of emergency persists, the announcement has raised questions about whether the elections will take place in August. The second anniversary of the coup was also marked by a series of silent protests that saw deserted streets in major cities across Myanmar, after activists called for people to close businesses and stay indoors to signal their opposition to the junta. The following day, the military announced that it had imposed martial law in 37 townships across eight of the country’s 14 regions and states, including 11 townships in Sagaing region and Chin state, where opposition to the regime has been particularly strong.
The security situation in Myanmar remains highly volatile. The military continues to clash with the People’s Defence Force (PDF)—a group comprising local civilian militias created in response to the February 2021 coup—and various ethnic armed groups in different parts of the country. The clashes with the PDF and other forces appear to pose a serious challenge to the military’s authority. In comments reported by state media on 1 February, General Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the junta, acknowledged that more than one-third of townships are not under full military control. Reports have also emerged of increasing air strikes carried out by the junta within Myanmar, including an 18 January attack that reportedly targeted a village in the central Sagaing region, killing at least seven people and injuring five more.
The fighting has contributed to ongoing refugee and humanitarian crises in Myanmar. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the violence has caused tens of thousands of refugees to flee to neighbouring countries and displaced over 982,000 people within the country. In January, UNHCR also reported that more than 3,500 Rohingya had attempted to leave Bangladesh and Myanmar by sea in 2022, a 360 percent increase over the previous year. In an update published on 2 February, OCHA noted that 17.6 million people—nearly one-third of the population—are estimated to be in humanitarian need in 2023. On 17 February, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced that rations for Rohingya refugees, who have been in camps in Bangladesh since 2017, will be cut by 17 percent due to a lack of funding.
On 23 December 2022, US President Joe Biden signed the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act (the BURMA Act) into law. Among other matters, the BURMA Act requires Biden “to direct the US Permanent Representative to the [UN] to use the voice, vote, and influence of the US to spur greater action by the [UN]” on Myanmar. This includes “pushing the UN Security Council” to consider a resolution “condemning the February 2021 coup” and a resolution “that immediately imposes a global arms embargo against [Myanmar]”.
Human-Rights Related Developments
On 31 January, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, released a report on the February 2021 coup. In the report, Andrews argues that the coup was “illegal” and that the military’s “claim as Myanmar’s government is illegitimate” and outlines several recommendations for member states and UN organs, including the Security Council. In a statement accompanying the report, Andrews warned that the military is planning to seek legitimacy in 2023 through the means of “sham elections” and urged the international community to “explicitly denounce what will be a farcical exercise to perpetuate military control of Myanmar’s political system”.
In a 27 January statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk observed that Myanmar has undergone a “wholesale regression in human rights” and noted that credible sources estimate that “at least 2,890 people have died at the hands of the military”, which he described as “almost certainly an underestimation of the number of civilians killed as a result of military action”. Türk emphasised that restoring respect for human rights is necessary to end the crisis and also said that “those responsible for the daily attacks against civilians and the human rights violations must be held accountable”.
Key Issues and Options
The lack of progress in the implementation of ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus is a significant issue for Council members. One option is for the Council to convene a private meeting with a briefing from the ASEAN Special Envoy for Myanmar. Such a briefing could provide an opportunity for Council members to learn more about the dynamics within ASEAN and consider whether there is anything the Council could do to support the implementation of ASEAN’s consensus plan. The Council could also request a regular report from the Secretary-General regarding the Five-Point Consensus and the situation in Myanmar more broadly. A regular report could give the Council greater insight into the problems facing the country and provide an opportunity for Council members to monitor the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus more closely.
The ongoing violence in Myanmar is another major issue for the Council. If the fighting escalates, the Council could choose to pursue a resolution that includes the possibility of Article 41 measures including, for example, an arms embargo that prohibits the sale of materials used by the military’s air force, or an asset freeze targeted at the military leadership.
Another option is to hold an Arria-formula meeting with experts in international criminal law. Such a meeting could provide a platform for discussing whether referring the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an appropriate course of action for the Council.
The humanitarian and refugee crises in Myanmar are also areas of concern. Members could urge member states to make greater contributions to humanitarian relief efforts, particularly given the WFP’s recent announcement that rations will be cut for Rohingya refugees. The Council could also request briefings from OCHA and UNHCR regarding their work in Myanmar and Bangladesh, with a view to better understanding how the conflict in the country is fuelling the crises and whether there is anything the Council can do to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council dynamics on Myanmar have been difficult since the issue came onto the Council’s agenda in 2006. China has resisted stronger action from the Council for many years. It seems Russia has become increasingly engaged, as it has strengthened its ties with the military regime and in negotiations of outcomes has often opposed language that singled out the military. For several years, a group of elected members has pushed for more attention to be paid to the situation in Myanmar. The UK, the penholder on the file, which has for the last few years advocated for allowing ASEAN to take the lead on this issue, now appears more inclined for the Council to take on a more proactive role. ASEAN continues to be a key player, with some ASEAN members apparently playing an instrumental role in persuading China to abstain on the December resolution. Internal divisions within ASEAN on Myanmar may, however, make it even more difficult for the organisation to play a constructive role.
Since the military takeover, members have been able to agree on the need to exercise restraint and release all political prisoners but attributing responsibility for attacks and human rights language have been sensitive issues for some members. During the negotiations on resolution 2669, references to further measures and a regular reporting cycle by the Secretary-General were also contentious issues.
Among the elected members, since 2019, there has been either an ASEAN member (Indonesia, Vietnam) or a neighbouring country (India) in the Council. These members were vocal about ASEAN and the regional actors taking the lead on this issue. While neither a direct neighbour nor a member of ASEAN, Japan has had historically close ties to Myanmar and strong diplomatic and economic links with ASEAN. It has also been involved in efforts to promote dialogue among the different parties. March’s meeting might provide an indication as to whether the new mix of members in the Council in 2023 may be more amenable to greater Council engagement on this situation following the adoption of resolution 2669 in December 2022.
UN DOCUMENTS ON MYANMAR
|Security Council Resolutions|
|21 December 2022S/RES/2669||This was a resolution on the situation in Myanmar. Among other matters, the resolution demanded an immediate end to all forms of violence throughout the country and requested that the Secretary-General or his Special Envoy, in coordination with the ASEAN Special Envoy, report orally to the Council on UN support for the implementation of ASEAN’s Five-Point-Consensus by 15 March 2023.|