What's In Blue

Posted Mon 16 Aug 2021

Myanmar: Private Council Meeting

Tomorrow (17 August), the Security Council will convene for a private meeting on Myanmar. The expected briefers are Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener and Dato Erywan bin Pehin Yusof, Second Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam, the Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) who was appointed as ASEAN’s Special Envoy for Myanmar on 4 August. Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ramesh Rajasingham is also expected to brief on the humanitarian situation in the country.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Burgener is likely to provide an update on the situation in Myanmar, including on steps that the Myanmar military (also known as the Tatmadaw) has taken to consolidate its hold on power in the six months since the 1 February coup. On 1 August, the military announced the formation of a caretaker government, formally annulling the results of the 2020 election, and declared General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw, as the new prime minister. Burgener expressed concern in a 10 August press conference that the National League of Democracy (NLD), the opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi which won the November 2020 election, might be forcibly disbanded by the military.

In her briefing, Burgener is also likely to describe the escalation in fighting between the military and local defence forces in various parts of the country. She might reiterate her warning from the 10 August press conference that Myanmar may descend into a “full-scale civil war” if the parties are unable to hold a successful dialogue. In this context, she might provide updates regarding her idea for an inclusive dialogue between the Tatmadaw and the National Unity Government—an alliance of ousted NLD politicians and activists—on a wide-ranging set of issues, including the provision of humanitarian assistance; COVID-19 response; issues related to the Rohingya community; and root causes of the crisis such as Myanmar’s federal system, constitution and electoral system. With the appointment of an ASEAN Special Envoy, Council members may be interested in more information on how the two envoys might work together to garner support for this idea from the parties to the conflict.

Rajasingham is expected to focus in his briefing on the deepening humanitarian crisis in the country. Since the February coup, political instability and a deteriorating socio-economic and security situation have had severe effects on the people of Myanmar. A third wave of COVID-19 has also exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation. Moreover, the ongoing clashes in several areas, including in Shan, Chin and Kachin states, displaced more than 200,000 people. OCHA’s January 2021 humanitarian response plan noted that almost a million people in Myanmar needed assistance. An interim emergency response plan, developed to address the new humanitarian needs since the February coup and published in July, indicates that an additional two million people are now in urgent need of aid. Rajasingham may elaborate on current humanitarian response activities and challenges faced by OCHA and its partners in operating in the current environment.

Both Burgener and Rajasingham are expected to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the situation in Myanmar. According to the World Health Organisation, from 3 January to 16 August, there have been 356,985 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 13,445 reported deaths. Public health experts in Myanmar predict that 50 percent of the population could be infected with the virus by the end of August. At a 29 July Arria-formula meeting on “Myanmar:  Crisis, Conflict and COVID”, which was organised by the UK, two civil society representatives, one from the pro-democracy movement and the other from an ethnic group, presented their perspectives on the complex crisis in Myanmar. During this meeting, several Council members, including Estonia, Ireland, Norway, and the UK, called for a humanitarian pause in line with 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”. At tomorrow’s meeting, these members may repeat their call for a humanitarian ceasefire to facilitate access to healthcare, vaccines and vaccine education.

The situation in Myanmar was discussed during the 54th ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting, which took place on 2 August. In a joint communiqué issued on 4 August, the foreign ministers expressed concern regarding the developments in the country, including reports of violence and fatalities. They also “welcomed Myanmar’s commitment to the Five-Point Consensus of the ASEAN Leaders Meeting of 25 April”. The five-point consensus 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 foreign ministers further noted the continued support of ASEAN’s external partners for the five-point consensus, particularly in relation to humanitarian assistance, and encouraged the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance to immediately start work on a “policy guidance” for its implementation.

The 4 August joint communiqué also announced the appointment of Dato Erywan bin Pehin Yusof as ASEAN’s Special Envoy for Myanmar and stated that the Special Envoy’s work will include “building trust and confidence with full access to all parties concerned and providing a clear timeline on the implementation of the five-point consensus”. The appointment of an ASEAN Special Envoy for Myanmar had been delayed for several months, apparently due to differences among ASEAN members over the most appropriate person for the position. It seems that the Tatmadaw’s involvement in the appointment has also complicated the process. Council members may be interested in an update from Erywan on the timeline for the implementation of the five-point consensus.

Council members will also be interested in hearing about Erywan’s plans for a visit to Myanmar. On 8 August, Erywan told reporters that a visit to Myanmar is “in the pipeline” and that there will be “a more substantive discussion” that will involve all parties. A visit in June by Erywan in his capacity as chair of ASEAN, together with ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, was criticised for only including meetings with the military. In her 10 August press conference, Burgener said that she had spoken to Erywan and that they would be working closely together. Members may be interested in hearing whether there is a possibility for a joint visit of the two envoys in the future.

It seems that the UK circulated a draft press statement on Myanmar ahead of tomorrow’s meeting. However, at the time of writing, it seems that at least two members are not supportive of having a Council product at this point.