What's In Blue

Posted Mon 6 Nov 2017

Myanmar: Adoption of a Presidential Statement

This afternoon, the Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on the situation in Myanmar, focused on the widespread violence and the displacement of more than 600,000 people, largely from the Rohingya community, since the attacks on 24 August on Myanmar police border posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The draft presidential statement follows attempts to get agreement on a draft resolution over the last few weeks and builds largely on its substance.

The Council had several meetings on Myanmar in September: three briefings under “other matters”, a public briefing by the Secretary-General, and meetings on the margins of the General Assembly high-level debate. However, the only outcome was elements to the press following the briefing under “other matters” on 13 September.

By early October, several Council members expressed interest in having a stronger outcome, which led to a draft resolution co-drafted by France and the UK. This draft text was discussed among the P3, and then shared with China and Russia. It seems that China and Russia were not willing to engage on the text and made it very clear that it did not think that the timing was right for a Council outcome on the situation in Myanmar. On 23 October, the text was shared with all 15 Council members, and a first negotiation was scheduled for 24 October. However, it seems that China and Russia were still unwilling to engage in a substantive discussion, and Council members were only able to have a broad discussion on the possibility of an outcome.

The first negotiation on the text took place on 27 October, but again China and Russia did not engage. On 31 October, the co-penholders put the draft resolution under silence until the next morning, apparently in large part to see how China would react. Silence was broken by China, which reiterated that it did not agree with an outcome on this issue.

However, over the next few days, the co-penholders had extensive discussions with China and were able to get agreement from China to a presidential statement. China was willing to engage in view of the change in format of the outcome. Russia, which had apparently refused to engage as a sign of support to China, also agreed to the alternative format.

The draft presidential statement condemns the 24 August attacks and the widespread violence that followed, calls on the government to ensure no further excessive use of military force in Rakhine State, and stresses the importance of full humanitarian access and the voluntary return of all internally displaced persons to their homes. It also calls on the government to address the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine State and welcomes the government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on the Rakhine State.

While the draft presidential statement is largely based on the draft resolution and retains its key messages, changes have been made to accommodate China’s concerns. The most difficult area was apparently the issue of citizenship. As a result, the draft presidential statement makes no reference to the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on the Rakhine State concerning statelessness and the 1982 Citizenship Law.

Other issues that required some compromise were in relation to the UN Fact-Finding Mission established by the Human Rights Council and to the request that the Secretary-General appoint a Special Advisor on Myanmar. In the draft presidential statement there is no specific reference to the Fact-Finding Mission. Instead, there is language calling on the government to cooperate with all “relevant United Nations bodies, mechanisms and instruments, in particular the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights”. Regarding the request for a Special Advisor, the draft presidential softens the language to encouraging the Secretary-General to “consider, as appropriate” the appointment of a Special Advisor.

Language that some elected members had suggested during the negotiations on the draft resolution on the efforts of regional organisations, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Organisation of Islamic States (OIC), and the EU, was retained in the draft presidential statement. It seems that some members were keen to have an outcome from the Council ahead of the ASEAN Summit in Manila on 15 October.
Significantly, a request for the Secretary-General to brief the Council on developments in Rakhine State has been retained, although it requests a briefing after 30 days rather than 15 days, as had been proposed in the draft resolution.

While a number of Council members would have clearly preferred a resolution, there appears to be general acceptance that a presidential statement that shows the unity of the Council sends a stronger message. It seems that the deterioration in the situation in Myanmar, possibly coupled with the number of Council members that were pushing for a stronger response from the Council, swayed China enough to accept the need for some sort of outcome. Besides France and the UK, which is the penholder on this issue, other members such as Sweden and Council members which are also members of the OIC – Egypt, Kazakhstan and Senegal – have shown particular interest in this issue. The OIC is spearheading a resolution in the Third Committee on “the situation of human rights in Myanmar”, which is expected to be to be put to a vote in the third week of November. It had originally been focused more exclusively on the Rohingya situation, but in order to obtain wider support, the title was changed. This draft resolution covers many of the same areas as the Council’s presidential statement and includes a request for the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy for Myanmar.

The members of the Third Committee were briefed about the human rights situation in Myanmar when Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, presented her report to the Committee on 26 October. In her briefing, she said that the crisis in Rakhine state had been decades in the making and had gone beyond Myanmar’s borders. She also noted that there were other human rights challenges, including consistent reports of religious intolerance against Christians and Muslims across Myanmar.

Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman visited Myanmar from 12 – 17 October. During the visit, he met State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi and senior members of the military. Among the areas covered during the meetings were increased cooperation between Myanmar and the UN, including whether the UN could provide assistance in implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. He also met U Thein Swe, Minister for Labour, Immigration and Population, and Lt General Ye Aung, the Minister for Border Affairs Union. Discussion at these meetings focused on the unrest in Rakhine State and covered citizenship verification procedures and the safe return of those who had fled to Bangladesh.

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