What's In Blue

Posted Fri 11 May 2018

Myanmar: Briefing and Consultations Following Visiting Mission

On Monday (14 May), the Security Council will be briefed by Ambassador Mansour Al Otaibi (Kuwait), Ambassador Gustavo Meza Cuadra Velásquez (Peru) and Ambassador Karen Pierce (UK), the three co-leads on the Council’s visiting mission to Bangladesh and Myanmar from 28 April to 1 May. Following the briefing, Council members will have consultations, during which High Commissioner for Refugees Fillipo Grandi will brief by VTC. The briefing will be followed by consultations, where an OHCHR representative will be present to answer questions.

After a stopover in Kuwait, the Council travelled to Bangladesh. In Cox’s Bazar, they interacted with refugees, and heard from officials involved in running the refugee camps. In Dhaka, they met with the Bangladesh Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina and other senior government officials, as well as representatives of the UN Country Team and civil society.

In Myanmar, the Council delegation met with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and senior members of her cabinet, as well as with Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other senior generals. The delegation also met with members of the UN Country Team, local government officials, representatives of civil society, and the local population in Rakhine State.

(For details of the meetings and activities during the visiting mission to Bangladesh and
Myanmar, please see our three Dispatches from the Field.)

In the plane on the way back from the visiting mission, members discussed the possibility of a Council outcome based on the visit. Shortly after the delegation returned to New York, the UK, the lead in the Council on Myanmar, circulated a draft press statement. It seems that the UK was keen to have an outcome ahead of the briefing on the visiting mission to guide consideration of future Council action. However, negotiations on the draft were delayed by China, which initially felt it might be premature to issue a press statement.

During this week, negotiations were held on the draft statement. After the UK incorporated some of the revisions requested by China, a draft passed silence and was issued late Wednesday (9 May). It appears that the tone of the draft press statement was softened to accommodate China, and along these lines, language was included recognising the efforts of the Myanmar government to improve the situation. However, key messages in the initial draft were retained. The statement provides a factual account of what the Council did and saw in Bangladesh and Myanmar and highlights issues around the repatriation of refugees, access by the UN to Rakhine State, and accountability. It also stresses the need for continued support to Bangladesh, especially in light of the potential impact of the upcoming monsoon season on the refugees in Cox’s Bazar.

Accountability was among the more difficult issues during the negotiations. The press statement urges Myanmar to fulfil its stated commitment to hold accountable perpetrators of violence, including with regard to sexual violence and abuse and violence against children. It seems that China preferred not having such language at all but finally accepted less strongly worded references to accountability.

There was also pushback from China on a reference to the Council working with the newly appointed Special Envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener given that the Special Envoy position was created through a General Assembly resolution. However, the UK and others stood firm on this matter, and the reference was retained in the final press statement.

The negotiations over the draft press statement highlighted the fact that fundamental positions of some members had not changed as a result of the visiting mission, although all Council members on the trip may have been personally affected by what they saw. Members who want to move towards a stronger Council outcome in the near future may now be looking for ways of convincing China, and possibly Russia, of this.

Members appear divided over whether the timing is right for a resolution with possible punitive action. There are some who now believe that a more measured approach that focuses on areas where there could be possible progress should be considered. Some NGO groups have begun to push for the Council to adopt a resolution referring Myanmar to the ICC. While some members are supportive of this idea, there is also awareness that ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has asked the ICC to rule on whether it has jurisdiction over the deportations of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh. This has led to some members that are supportive of the ICC to believe that it might be better to wait for the ruling before seriously considering the ICC option.

It seems that the three co-leads will brief on different geographic areas of the visit. Kuwait will cover Bangladesh; the UK, Rakhine State; and Peru, Naypitaw. Member states may choose to speak in the open chamber, as well as during consultations. While having a briefing on a Council visiting mission is the norm, having consultations is more unusual. The UK requested this closed format in order to have a frank discussion of the visiting mission and possibly of the next steps for the Council. During the consultations, Grandi is expected to give Council members an update on the refugee situation, as well as on any progress that has been made on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the government of Myanmar and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Development Programme regarding access to Rakhine State. The UN has been negotiating this MOU for several months, but there are several areas that still need to be agreed. Members are aware that there are minimum conditions for the UN agencies to sign the MOU, including the implementation of the Advisory Committee’s recommendations, and issues around citizenship and freedom of movement.

Members are expected to speak about their impressions of the situation in Bangladesh and Myanmar. The reality on the ground in Cox’s Bazar left members with an indelible impression of the immense scale of the refugee problem, as well as of the immediate need for humanitarian assistance in light of the impending monsoon season. Many are likely to address the humanitarian crisis and the urgent need to ensure support for Bangladesh.

Another issue that may be raised is the need for more than physical arrangements for the return of the refugees. Having seen the reception and transit centres in Rakhine State in preparation for the return of refugees, members are likely to highlight that the conditions for a safe return of the Rohingya refugees are not yet in place and to urge the Myanmar government to move more quickly in creating the appropriate conditions.
Some members may further raise issues around accountability as well as human rights and may want to have a discussion of possible mechanisms that could be used to conduct credible investigations into allegations of human rights abuses.

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