What's In Blue

Posted Wed 10 Mar 2021

Myanmar Presidential Statement*

This afternoon (10 March), the Security Council president this month (the US) will announce the adoption of a presidential statement on Myanmar, which addresses events since the military’s declaration of a state of emergency on 1 February and the detention of several civilian leaders.

The UK circulated the draft statement during the Council’s closed videoconference meeting on Myanmar on 5 March, where members were briefed on the latest developments in Myanmar by Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener. Most members submitted their comments over the weekend (6-7 March), with China and Russia providing inputs on Monday (8 March). A revised draft was put under silence until 9.30 am yesterday (9 March), which was extended until the evening at the request of China and Russia. Silence was broken last night by these two members, who provided further revisions, as did India, the US and Viet Nam.

Although the situation in Myanmar was added to the Council’s agenda in 2006, there have only been three presidential statements on this issue, in 2007, 2008 and 2017. China and Russia have traditionally not been keen to have the Council play an active role, arguing against interference in what they consider internal matters, and elected members from the region have generally been cautious about Council involvement, preferring a more regional approach. Traditionally the Council has been able to agree on formal outcomes only when there is a drastic deterioration of the situation; for example, the 2017 presidential statement was adopted following widespread violence and the displacement of more than 600,000 people, largely from the Rohingya community, following the attacks on 24 August on Myanmar police border posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. A sign that members generally ambivalent about Council involvement on this issue recognised the gravity of the current crisis was the ability of Council members to agree on the 4 February 2021 press statement.

During the negotiations, it appears that there was broad agreement on support for the democratic process in Myanmar, condemning the violence, and the need to pursue dialogue and reconciliation. The draft presidential statement strongly condemns the violence against peaceful protestors, including against women, youth and children and calls for the release of those arbitrarily detained. Reaching agreement on the draft required some compromises on accountability, human rights, and the characterisation of the military’s actions. As a result, the draft presidential statement does not condemn the military coup, but expresses the Council’s deep concern at the developments, as did the 4 February press statement.

Members were also unable to agree that, in the event of a further deterioration of the situation, the Council would consider “further measures” (i.e., Chapter VII tools such as sanctions) or that those responsible for the violence would be held accountable. The final draft instead calls for the military to exercise restraint and emphasises that the Council is following the situation closely.

There were also amendments on the initial text to a paragraph on the role of regional organisations. In this regard, Vietnam, a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), proposed language that was accepted regarding ASEAN”s engagement on the issue and expanding on the details of the ASEAN Chair’s recent statements. The draft presidential statement also expresses support for Special Envoy Burgener’s engagement with all relevant parties and encourages her to visit Myanmar as soon as possible.

A controversial aspect of earlier versions of the draft was the impact of the recent developments on the humanitarian situation. It seems that the original draft suggested that the recent actions of the military pose serious challenges for the return of the Rohingya refugees and highlighted the military’s direct involvement in violations against Rohingya. It also included language on the importance of justice and accountability with respect to crimes committed against the Rohingya and minority groups.

As several members were not comfortable with these elements, the final text does not directly criticise the military or call for accountability. It highlights that the current situation could exacerbate the existing challenges in Rakhine state and other regions and calls for safe and unimpeded access to all people. In addition, it expresses concern that the recent developments complicate the already significant challenges for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons and emphasises the importance of protecting the rights of minorities.

The majority of members felt strongly that the Council needed to respond to the recent developments with a formal outcome. In the end, compromises were made to achieve consensus by accommodating the concerns of members who had clear red lines that would not allow them to go much beyond the February press statement.


*Post-script: On 10 March, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/5), which expressed strong support for the democratic process and strongly condemned the violence.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails

Subscribe to receive SCR publications