What's In Blue

Posted Fri 30 Apr 2021

Private Meeting on Myanmar via VTC

This morning (30 April), the Security Council will hold a private meeting on Myanmar via videoconference (VTC). The expected briefers are Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener and Erywan bin Pehin Yusof, Second Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam, as the Chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Members have received two sets of press elements, one from China and Russia and the other from the UK. At the time of writing, it is unclear if there will be agreement on what to issue before the end of the meeting.

A private meeting of the Council is closed to the public. However, a private meeting differs from Council consultations, which are also closed, in being a formal meeting of the Security Council. In addition, in line with rules 37 and 39 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, member states whose interests are directly affected and Secretariat officials may be invited to participate in a private meeting. The rules of procedure also require that a communiqué be issued following a private meeting, unlike consultations, for which no written record is created. Such communiqués habitually note that the meeting has taken place, and who attended and briefed.

Today’s private Council meeting is being held following a 24 April meeting of ASEAN leaders at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia. Developments in Myanmar since the military coup on 2 February were a key focus of the meeting. It appears that the gravity of the situation in Myanmar has prompted ASEAN to, rather unusually, pronounce itself on recent developments in that country. Since its inception, ASEAN has embraced the principle of non-interference in its members’ internal affairs. A chair’s statement issued following the 24 April meeting expressed deep concern about the situation in Myanmar, including about “reports of fatalities and escalation of violence”. The chair’s statement featured a “five-point consensus”, in which ASEAN leaders called on the parties to end violence and engage in dialogue. The consensus statement established a special envoy of the ASEAN chair to facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, who would work with the ASEAN Secretary-General. It also stated that the envoy should visit Myanmar and meet with all concerned parties. It further said that ASEAN should provide humanitarian aid through the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA).

At today’s meeting, Erywan is expected to address the key messages from the five-point consensus and brief on possible steps ASEAN may take with regard to the situation in Myanmar. While most Council members are expected to acknowledge that achieving agreement on the consensus statement is a positive step, some may highlight the importance of its timely and comprehensive implementation in light of the continuing violence and unrest. Over 700 people have been killed since the military coup on 1 February and thousands detained.

Council members may seek information on the role of the ASEAN special envoy, who has not yet been named, including on envisioned timelines for the fulfilment of the position and possible candidates. Members might be interested in Erywan’s views on how the UN can support possible ASEAN mediation and on possible avenues for cooperation between the UN and ASEAN special envoys to address the crisis in Myanmar. Most members are likely to encourage dialogue as a means to de-escalate the situation, while some members may stress that any dialogue should include all parties, including the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), which was formed by the democratically elected representatives in Myanmar on 4 February.

While Burgener, who has been in the region for three weeks, did not attend the ASEAN summit, she was able to meet with a number of ASEAN foreign ministers and other senior officials ahead of the leaders’ meeting. Before going to Jakarta, Burgener was in Bangkok, where she met with UN regional officials and civil society representatives involved in Myanmar. She had hoped to be allowed to visit Myanmar but, in a 9 April tweet, said that she had been informed by the Tatmadaw that they were not ready to receive her. She was, however, able to meet with Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing when he attended the ASEAN meeting in Jakarta. Burgener is expected to provide an overview of her impressions of these meetings. Council members will be particularly interested in her assessment of the concerns of Myanmar’s neighbours. They may also want to hear her thoughts on her meetings with those who are in close contact with civil society in Myanmar.

It is also possible that some members may ask the ASEAN chair for his interpretation of the statements made by the Myanmar military commander in chief following his return to Myanmar, which appear to suggest that the military would only consider ASEAN’s proposal after stabilising the country. Some members might express concern that these remarks may indicate a lack of commitment to the five-point consensus.

Burgener is also expected to reiterate her concerns over the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country. In this context, members may want more information about how ASEAN will carry out its stated intention to provide humanitarian aid to Myanmar. Following the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis on Myanmar in 2008, cooperation between ASEAN, the UN and the Myanmar government was crucial in providing humanitarian relief. Members may ask Erywan if such a tripartite partnership might be considered for the current situation.

Council members are aware that the continuing violence and economic deterioration in Myanmar may lead to serious internal and cross-border displacement into neighbouring states, particularly Thailand and India, which is an elected member of the Council. Members may seek further information on potential preparations by the UN to assist countries that are likely to be directly affected by a potential outflow of refugees in the coming months. In this regard, members may also reiterate that addressing the plight of Rohingya refugees, most of whom have been in Bangladesh since 2017, should remain a priority even if a new refugee crisis unfolds.

This will be the fifth time Council members have met on the situation in Myanmar since early February. The first three meetings were VTC consultations, in which only Burgener briefed. These meetings were held in a closed format which does not allow for briefers from outside the UN Secretariat. The most recent meeting was an Arria-formula meeting on 9 April convened by the UK, the penholder on Myanmar, in which members heard briefings from Sai Sam Kham, a civil society representative from Myanmar; Richard Horsey, Senior Adviser at International Crisis Group; and Daw Zin Mar Aung, from the CRPH. Myanmar’s permanent representative, Kyaw Moe Tun, also participated. Although an informal Council meeting, this format allowed for members to express their views on Myanmar publicly. There was a clear divide between members who wanted stronger action from the Council, including sanctions, and those who favoured dialogue to de-escalate the situation. While some members expressed the view that this is an internal affair, others Council members noted the potential for regional instability.

Council members have generally expressed support for ASEAN to play a role in addressing a crisis of one of its members. Today’s private meeting will provide members with an opportunity to hear directly from the chair of ASEAN. The closed format may encourage members to engage in a frank exchange of views on possible avenues for cooperation between the UN and ASEAN.