What's In Blue

Posted Wed 28 Jul 2021

Myanmar: Arria-formula Meeting

Tomorrow (29 July), Security Council members will hold a virtual Arria-formula meeting on “Myanmar: Crisis, Conflict and COVID – where are we now?”. The meeting is being organised by the UK. The expected briefers are Susanna Hla Hla Soe, Minister for Women at the National Unity Government, an alliance of ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) politicians and activists who see themselves as the legitimate representatives of the people of Myanmar, and Gum San Nsang of the Kachin Political Interim Coordination Team (KPICT), a coordination team comprised of domestic and international organisations which advocate for the rights of the Kachin ethnic groups in northern Myanmar. In addition to Council members, member states from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are expected to attend the meeting and several of them might make statements.

The meeting will be broadcast on UNTV at 10:30 am EST.

The concept note prepared by the UK says that one of the objectives of the meeting is for the Council to hear from the pro-democracy movement and from ethnic voices within Myanmar. Another stated objective is to consider how the international community can assist in addressing the challenges facing Myanmar, including through “democratic processes and the rule of law [and] progress towards ASEAN’s five-point consensus”. It further notes the need to address the difficult humanitarian situation and the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Tomorrow’s meeting will allow members to publicly express their views on the latest developments in Myanmar, including on the effect of the spike in COVID-19 cases. It can also serve as a platform to discuss ways in which the UN could support a ceasefire to combat the spread of the virus in Myanmar.

The possible role of the international community, particularly the Council and ASEAN, is expected to be a key focus of Council members’ statements at tomorrow’s meeting. In this context, the concept note poses two questions:

  • How can Council members encourage urgent progress on the implementation of ASEAN’s five-point consensus?
  • What steps should the Security Council consider to implement resolution 2565 on the equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in the case of Myanmar, given that the developing COVID crisis is compounding an already critical humanitarian situation in the country with implications for the entire region?

ASEAN leaders agreed to the five-point consensus during a meeting on 24 April. In the consensus, the leaders called for: a cessation of violence, dialogue between the parties, the appointment of a special envoy of the ASEAN chair to facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, a visit by the ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar, and the provision of humanitarian aid by ASEAN. The chair of ASEAN, Dato Erywan bin Pehin Yusof, Second Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam, briefed Council members in April and in June on the five-point consensus. However, three months on from the consensus, there appears to have been little progress. Divisions within ASEAN have made it difficult to fill the position of the Special Envoy and the security situation in Myanmar has deteriorated. Clashes between the military and civilians continue, with media reports indicating that nearly 900 people had been killed as at early July. The situation in the border areas of the country has also worsened, as recent months have witnessed an increase in armed conflict between minority ethnic groups and the formation of anti-military militias in response to the military’s crackdown on civilians.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to reiterate their support for ASEAN and emphasise the need to implement the five-point consensus. Most members appear to believe that ASEAN should play a lead role in addressing this crisis, but there may be some that see a need for greater Council pressure if there is no concrete progress soon. With an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting scheduled for 2 August, these members may choose to send a message to ASEAN on the need for progress on specific measures, such as the appointment of an ASEAN special envoy. They may also refer to the 18 June General Assembly resolution, which included a call to prevent the flow of arms to Myanmar.

The humanitarian situation in the country is another likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting. The dire conditions in Myanmar have been compounded by the rapid spread of a third wave of COVID-19. Media sources in Myanmar have reported that over 4,000 people have died of the virus since June. According to the concept note, public health experts in Myanmar predict that 50 percent of the country’s population could be infected with either the Alpha or Delta variants of COVID-19 within three weeks. In a 27 July statement, Tom Andrews, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, called for an urgent “COVID ceasefire”. He attributed to military forces at least 260 attacks against medical personnel and facilities and 18 related deaths.   Andrews warned that at least 5,630 people who are being arbitrarily detained are at risk of contracting COVID-19. In addition, he urged the Council and member states to “use all the tools of the UN, including adopting resolutions” to compel Myanmar’s military rulers to stop all attacks.

Several Council members, as well as the briefers, may stress the urgent need for a ceasefire. In this context, members may refer to resolution 2565 of 26 February on COVID-19, which calls for a “durable, extensive, and sustained humanitarian pause to facilitate, inter alia, the equitable, safe and unhindered delivery and distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations in areas of armed conflict”. On 26 July, Council members held closed consultations to receive an update on the implementation of resolution 2565. It seems that the need for a ceasefire to address the COVID situation in Myanmar was raised by several members at that meeting.

It seems that several member states are not completely comfortable with the focus of tomorrow’s Arria-formula meeting and the choice of its briefers. Russia has apparently indicated that it will not attend the meeting. Several other Council members may choose to attend, but not make statements.

Some members may seek a formal meeting of the Council following the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting next month. This would allow for an update on ASEAN activities and for a further discussion on the humanitarian and regional impact of the latest wave of COVID-19 in Myanmar.