Myanmar Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (12 December), the Security Council will be briefed by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten on developments in Myanmar. This will be followed by consultations where, besides Feltman and Patten, representatives from OCHA, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Office for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will be present to answer questions. This meeting is a follow-up to the presidential statement on the situation in Myanmar adopted on 6 November, which requested the Secretary-General to brief on developments 30 days after its adoption.
Feltman is expected to provide an update on the situation in Rakhine State and its impact on the Rohingya population over the last month. Since August, over 624,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in the wake of violence, following retaliation by the Myanmar army for an attack on security posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on 25 August. Members will be interested in Feltman’s overview of developments in the security situation, his assessment of future security risks, and his views on how they could be monitored.
The potential appointment of a special adviser or envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar is an area of interest for many Council members. The November presidential statement encouraged the Secretary-General to consider appointing a special adviser, while a Third Committee resolution on human rights in Myanmar adopted on 16 November asked the Secretary-General to appoint a special envoy on Myanmar. (The Third Committee resolution is expected to be voted on in the General Assembly later this month.) Members will be interested in whether there is likely to be a special adviser or envoy in place soon. Some members may want to discuss the possibility of regular briefings once this position is filled.
On 23 November, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a repatriation agreement, the “Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State”. Council members will be interested in more details of this agreement. They will most likely want to know if there is any indication that the Myanmar government might allow the UN to be involved in the repatriation process, particularly in developing a framework for the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced peoples in accordance with international standards. Concerns have been expressed by UNHCR and others about the repatriation process, including where the returning Rohingya will be settled (given that many of their homes have been destroyed) and what will be done to ensure their safety. The conditions in the refugee camps in Bangladesh is also an issue of concern for some members who may want to hear OCHA’s assessment of humanitarian challenges in these camps and what support is needed.
There may also be interest in the recent Special Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) which was held on 5 December, following a request on 28 November from Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and Patten both briefed during this session. Zeid said that elements of genocide were present in Rakhine and called for access to be granted for further investigation and human rights monitoring. He also asked the HRC to consider making a recommendation to the General Assembly to establish an independent mechanism to assist in criminal investigations, which would be complementary to the work of the Fact-Finding Mission. Patten said that sexual violence had been used as collective punishment, sometimes with extreme brutality including “being raped to death”. She reported that the initial assessment of an inter-agency team that had gone to Bangladesh was that patterns of grave violations existed in the context of military actions.
Tomorrow, Patten is expected to share her impressions of the camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, which she visited from 5-13 November. A number of Council members were keen to have Patten brief during tomorrow’s meeting and are likely to ask her to elaborate on how sexual violence has been used as a weapon in this situation. Patten may stress, as she did during the HRC meeting, that the Security Council’s November presidential statement underscored sexual violence and the need to investigate it.
The representative of OHCHR is likely to refer to the initial findings of the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar that was established by the HRC. Following a visit of the three experts of the Mission to Bangladesh, they issued a press release stating that they were “deeply disturbed” by accounts of killings, torture, rape, arson and aerial attacks reportedly perpetrated against the Rohingya community in Myanmar. The Mission has not been granted access to Myanmar, and members may ask if there are any signs that this may change. An interim report is expected to be submitted by the Mission to the HRC in March 2018.
For more background and options for the Council on the situation in Myanmar please see our brief in the December 2017 Forecast.