What's In Blue

Posted Wed 24 Feb 2016

Briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar

Tomorrow afternoon (25 February), at the request of the UK, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, is scheduled to brief Council members during informal consultations under “any other business” (AOB). A representative from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is expected to be present to answer questions.

Nambiar last briefed on 19 November 2015 in the aftermath of the 8 November elections in Myanmar which the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, won by a landslide. In 2015 there was heightened interest in Myanmar among Council members, with four briefings under AOB covering the peace process, the Rohingya, and the elections compared with only one in 2014. The election of a new president is expected in March, and it seems the UK felt it would be useful to get an update on the situation in the country ahead of the transition to a new administration.

The request is also in line with the UK’s view that the Council should remain involved in the situation in Myanmar, as expressed in its 4 February letter to the Council president (S/2016/113) in which it requested the retention of Myanmar on the list of items 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. The last formal Council discussion on Myanmar was held on 13 July 2009. Having a briefing under “any other business” appears to be a concession to members, such as China, who prefer not to have a formal discussion on Myanmar.

Nambiar’s briefing tomorrow is expected to focus on the political transition, progress in the peace process, and the human rights situation. It is taking place at a time marked by positive momentum and high expectations for real change, although there is also recognition that important challenges lie ahead. The political transition has so far progressed smoothly. The formal installation of the new parliament on 1 February marked a historic milestone. While the military still holds 25 percent of the seats in both houses of parliament, NLD controls a comfortable majority with 135 of the 225 seats in the upper house and 255 of the 440 seats in the lower house, and is expected to form the first civilian government in decades on 1 April. Looking ahead, however, the selection of a new president by the parliament in March, when President Thein Sein is due to step down, will be an important test for the transition. The constitution prevents anyone with immediate family who “owe allegiance to a foreign power” from being president of Myanmar and also requires the president to have military experience. This disqualifies Suu Kyi, who has no military background and whose two sons are UK citizens. According to recent media reports, however, there have been negotiations between the military commander-in-chief, General Min Aung Hlang, and Suu Kyi on suspending the clause in the constitution that is preventing her from becoming president. While Nambiar will not necessarily address these issues, Council members may be interested in getting a general update regarding the political transition.

Nambiar is expected to share his assessment of the current state of the peace process, together with impressions from his participation at the peace conference held from 12 to 16 January in accordance with the nationwide ceasefire agreement that was signed by the government and eight armed groups on 15 October 2015. It was attended by 1,136 representatives of government, parliament, armed groups and other stakeholders, and has been described as the largest political gathering in Myanmar since its independence. Discussions focused on the principles for establishing a democratic federal union, resettlement of internally displaced persons, taxation and revenue sharing, the basic principles of national defence and security, and natural resources management and distribution. Nambiar may provide additional details, including on expected next steps and prospects for further progress under the incoming government. In addition, he may draw attention to recent outbreaks of violence in Kachin state and potential implications for the peace process.

With regard to the human rights situation, Nambiar is likely to highlight key challenges across the country, including the situation in Rakhine state and continuing concerns about discrimination against ethnic Rohingya Muslims. In the past, several Council members have been particularly concerned about the situation for the Rohingya and will be keen to get Nambiar’s assessment of the current situation and whether there has been any improvement. In the run-up to the elections, Suu Kyi was criticised for not addressing issues of ethnic discrimination and, in particular, for failing to defend the Rohingya’s right to vote. Council members who believe improving the human rights situation should be a priority may therefore have questions about how the UN will work with the incoming government in tackling these and other human rights challenges.

The General Assembly’s Third Committee in its resolution on Myanmar (A/C.3/65/L.48/Rev.1) adopted in December 2015, requested the Secretary-General’s good offices to continue and apparently Nambiar will stay on as Special Advisor until the end of this year. After that, however, it remains to be seen what will happen with the good offices mandate. In his latest report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (A/70/332), the Secretary-General invited member states to consider a gradual scaling down of the good offices mandate by the end of 2016, as well as other modes of engagement thereafter, but there seem to be different views among member states on this proposal.

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