Update Report No. 4: Myanmar
On Friday 29 September the Council will be briefed on Myanmar by Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari. In his briefing Gambari is likely to cover the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Myanmar, the human rights and refugee problem in the Karen state and any progress towards an inclusive and democratic political process.
Even though the Council has received briefings on Myanmar last year and earlier this year (please see our 26 May and 1 June 2006 Update Reports for details), this will be the first briefing with the situation in Myanmar being officially on the Council agenda. The Council took a rare procedural vote to add this item; it is therefore interesting to look at how it was done in some detail.
In a letter on 1 September to the president of the Council, the US requested that the situation in Myanmar be placed on the Council’s agenda. It also asked that a senior official of the Secretariat give a formal briefing on the situation and its implications for international peace and security. The US argued that Myanmar is a threat to international peace and security because of the destabilizing effects on the region from its human rights violations and the outflow of refugees, drugs and HIV/AIDS.
On 15 September, the US in another letter to the president of the Council, requested a meeting of the Council on an agenda item entitled “The situation in Myanmar” to take place in September.
Under rule 2 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure the president shall call a meeting of the Council at the request of any member of the Council. As a result the Council met on 15 September to consider a provisional agenda with “The situation in Myanmar, Letter dated 15 September 2006 from the Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/2006/742)” as its only item. As there was opposition to this agenda item, a vote was taken in an open meeting of the Council in order to adopt the provisional agenda. As a procedural issue, the approval needed nine votes in favour and permanent members could not use their veto. The agenda was approved by ten votes with China, Russia, Qatar and Congo voting against and Tanzania abstaining. As a result of this vote, Myanmar was formally added to the agenda of the Council.
The briefing on Friday will be in a private meeting, which is closed but considered as an official meeting of the Council. The Council is expected to issue a communiqué in accordance with rule 55 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure which states “at the close of each private meeting the Security Council shall issue a communiqué through the Secretary-General”.
Other possible outcomes of the Friday briefing are:
- request Gambari to brief the Council again, possibly before his next visit to Myanmar as well as after the visit;
- issue a statement to the press; and
- start formal discussions on a draft resolution. (The US had circulated a draft informally to select Council members earlier in the year but is not pressing it at the moment given the opposition of some members, two of them permanent, to even having Myanmar discussed.)
The Council continues to be split on this issue but after intense US lobbying, more members are now agreeable to discussing Myanmar. A surprise convert was Japan which had in the past felt that the situation in Myanmar was a humanitarian issue and should not be discussed by the Council. China has held fast to its position that the situation in Myanmar does not constitute a threat to international peace and security and made it clear that it was unequivocally against including Myanmar on the Council agenda. The US, while pleased with its success at getting Myanmar on the agenda, is well aware that a resolution at this point is almost certain to face opposition from the members that voted against having Myanmar on the formal agenda as well as possibly a number of other members. However, given Washington’s interest in this issue, the US is probably not going to want to wait very long before trying to get agreement on a draft resolution which is likely to include concerns about Myanmar’s human rights situation and call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. This could lead to a prolonged and bitter dispute among members.
Myanmar, for its part, has reacted strongly to being put on the Council’s agenda and has said that diplomatic pressure will not have any impact on its domestic policies. On 26 September in his speech during the UN General Assembly’s open debate, the Myanmar Foreign Minister, U Nyan Win, accused some members of the Council of ganging up on Myanmar.
Myanmar is showing signs of becoming more isolated, even within ASEAN where it has been a member since 1997. While there have been several recent high level visits to Myanmar from ASEAN countries, there have also been recent indications that ASEAN is losing patience and wanting to move away from its policy of constructive engagement with Myanmar.