What's In Blue

Posted Wed 16 Apr 2014

Briefing on Myanmar

Tomorrow morning (17 April), the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, will brief Council members during informal consultations under “any other business”. It appears that the UK requested a briefing on the situation in Myanmar as it has been almost exactly a year since this issue was discussed. (Nambiar last briefed Council members on 16 April 2013). Nambiar came back from a visit to Myanmar last week and is expected to provide a general update on the situation.

Among key issues that Nambiar is likely to address is recent progress in the peace talks.
Government and representatives from armed groups met in Yangon on 9-10 March and media reports indicate that they reached agreement “in principle” to work on a consolidated ceasefire accord text. The agreement included the establishment of a joint drafting group comprising nine members from the ethnic armed groups and nine from the government, with three each from the executive branch, legislature and military. The leaders of the ethnic armed groups and government negotiators are expected to meet in early May to work on the remaining issues. With the peace process at a critical stage Council members may be interested in having Nambiar, who was an observer at the peace talks held between the Myanmar Government and Ethnic Armed Organisation in Myitkyina on 4 – 5 November 2013, share his thoughts on the prospects for further progress as well as the possible challenges to getting final agreement on a peace accord.

Nambiar is likely to also talk about the recent escalation of intercommunal tensions in Rakhine state and the controversy surrounding the census currently underway in the whole country. Tensions between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have persisted since June 2012, but appear to have recently escalated. In January, there were reports that more than forty Rohingya Muslims had been killed in two separate incidents of ethnic violence on 9 and 13 January. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on 23 January called on the government to investigate these incidents. The Myanmar government has denied that the incidents took place. Council members may be looking for greater clarity on these developments.

Another issue that is likely to be covered is the census, which began on 30 March and is being carried out by the government in collaboration with UN Population Fund (UNFPA). The census includes questions about race and ethnicity that seem to have further increased intercommunal tensions. In Rakhine state, nationalists threatened to boycott the census over a clause that would allow responders to self-identify their ethnicity as Rohingya. Protests against the census escalated to include attacks on offices and homes of international humanitarian workers in late March leading to the evacuation of humanitarian staff to Yangon. The boycott was called off, however, after the government on 29 March decided to prevent people from self-identifying as Rohingya. The decision has been widely criticised and has prompted questions about the validity of the census. Council members are likely to be keen to hear Nambiar’s assessment of the situation and efforts to de-escalate tensions.

The UK is the penholder on Myanmar and seems mindful of the need for the Council to remain engaged with regard to the situation in the country. The last formal Council discussion was held on 13 July 2009 when the Secretary-General briefed the Council on his recent visit to Myanmar. (It was initially added to the agenda of the Council on 15 September 2006. The decision to do so was the last procedural vote taken by the Council.) Since then the Council has considered this issue only during informal consultations, generally related to a briefing by the Special Advisor. As a result, Myanmar would have been deleted from the Council’s agenda if the UK on 26 February 2013 had not written to the Council president (S/2013/116) asking for the retention of the situation in Myanmar on the list of matters of which the Council is seized. (An issue which the Council has not considered formally for the preceding three years will automatically be deleted from the list unless a member state requests its retention.) It seems that it has now become practice for the UK to request a briefing from the Special Advisor in informal consultations on a regular basis.