Myanmar: Videoconference Consultations
Tomorrow (5 March), Council members will be briefed on developments in Myanmar by Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener in a closed videoconference (VTC). The Council last discussed Myanmar on 2 February shortly after the military (known as the Tatmadaw) detained several civilian leaders, including National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, and declared a state of emergency. Since then, the country has been thrown into political turmoil and seen nationwide protest. In recent days, the military has used lethal force and more than 50 people have been killed, hundreds injured and over 1,200 detained.
The Secretary-General has made several strong statements condemning the detention of the civilian leaders, the imposition of the state of emergency and the restrictions on communications. He has also urged the international community to put pressure on the Tatmadaw to return the country to democratic rule. As the military began their deadly attacks on protestors, the Secretary-General expressed his concern over the increasing use of force. Yesterday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the military needed to halt their “vicious crackdown” on peaceful protestors.
The Special Envoy briefed the General Assembly in an informal meeting on Myanmar on 26 February. In her briefing, Burgener urged members to send a clear signal of support for democracy in Myanmar. Besides focusing on recent political developments, she highlighted the need for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access. At the meeting, Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN, Kyaw Moe Tun, delivered an impassioned statement, making clear that he spoke on behalf of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), formed by the democratically-elected representatives in Myanmar on 4 February. He denounced the coup and called on the international community to take the “strongest possible measures” and “use any means necessary” against the military junta to restore civilian rule. It appears that he was removed as ambassador the day after the speech. The Tatmadaw appointed Deputy Permanent Representative Tin Maung Naing as the acting UN envoy, but he stated that he had resigned in a note verbale circulated on 4 March. The dispute over Myanmar’s permanent representative to the UN has been referred to the UN Credentials Committee.
On 12 February, the Human Rights Council held a special session on Myanmar. UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif and Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews briefed. Al-Nashif noted that not addressing crimes committed by the military over the years may have contributed to the current crisis. Andrews called on the Human Rights Council to urge the Security Council to consider all options previously used to deal with gross human rights violations. The Human Rights Council also adopted a resolution that strongly deplored the detentions and the suspension of the mandates of members of parliament. It also strongly urged the Myanmar security forces to exercise restraint and refrain from the use of violence against peaceful protestors.
ASEAN foreign ministers held a virtual meeting on the situation in Myanmar on 2 March. A statement issued by the chair of ASEAN expressed the organisation’s concern about the situation and called on “all parties to refrain from instigating further violence, and for all sides to exercise utmost restraint as well as flexibility”. It also called on all parties to seek a peaceful solution “through constructive dialogue, and practical reconciliation in the interests of the people and their livelihood”. The Chair’s statement also expressed ASEAN’s readiness to assist Myanmar in a “positive, peaceful and constructive manner”. Members may be interested in hearing more details about views expressed in this meeting and if there were any concrete suggestions for how ASEAN might be able to work with Myanmar to de-escalate the situation.
The Special Envoy is likely to reiterate key messages from her briefing to the General Assembly during the meeting tomorrow. The closed meeting format will provide an opportunity for members to follow up on some of the points raised and for a frank exchange with Burgener. Members may be looking for information on Burgener’s conversations with key stakeholders, both in Myanmar and from the region. Members are generally supportive of the Special Envoy, and this meeting may also provide an opportunity for them to ask her how they can support her efforts, including her attempts to visit Myanmar and meet with all the stakeholders. They are also supportive of ASEAN’s efforts, and one possibility would be for the Special Envoy to explore the possibility of visiting key actors in the region, even if she is unable to visit Myanmar at this point.
Council members are also likely to reiterate the public positions they took in the General Assembly meeting. Areas where there is some agreement include the need for detainees to be freed, and a peaceful return to the democratic process. There is also likely to be agreement on the need to reduce tensions and de-escalate the situation. The sharp rise in fatalities in the last few days may lead members to underscore the need for the military to use restraint in dealing with peaceful protestors. However, there continue to be differences over how best to de-escalate the situation. As reflected in the General Assembly meeting, China and Russia, while concerned about the recent developments, still firmly believe that this an internal matter. Vietnam, a member of ASEAN, has also made clear the need to respect Myanmar’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and, with China, has emphasised the need for dialogue and reconciliation rather than punitive measures. India, as a neighbouring country, is keenly aware of the possible consequences of the instability in Myanmar spreading across its borders. It has stressed the importance of upholding the rule of law and restoring the democratic process in the country.
Other members may advocate for the Council taking stronger action. The new US ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, promptly made clear the interest of the US for a Council discussion on Myanmar during her country’s presidency this month. Together with the European members of the Council, the US may be interested in testing possible ways of applying pressure on the Myanmar military, including through UN sanctions, or encouraging the international community not to engage with military enterprises. The Council has in the past found it difficult to agree on imposing sanctions on Myanmar and it is highly unlikely that they could agree to do so now.
The UK, the penholder on this issue, may float the idea of a strong Council product but some members may be unwilling to go beyond the press statement adopted on 4 February. In that statement, members expressed deep concern at the declaration of the state of emergency and the arbitrary detention of members of the government. They also called for the immediate release of all those detained, and for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need, including through the reestablishment of UN relief flights. It was the first Council outcome on the political situation in Myanmar since 2009. (Outcomes in 2017 and 2018 focused on the Rohingya situation). Some members may be resistant if they feel a stronger Council product would escalate rather than defuse tensions and may instead prefer to focus on alternatives, such as regional mediation or bilateral efforts.
Finally, some members may highlight the needs of the most vulnerable members of the population, including those in internally displaced persons camps. The deteriorating humanitarian situation, coupled with poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, is an issue of concern, particularly if the delivery of aid is blocked. Members may want an update from the Special Envoy on the impact of this political crisis on the ability of the UN to carry out its humanitarian work. There may also be concerns voiced about the fate of the over one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and what appear to be diminishing prospects for their safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable return under these changed circumstances.