What's In Blue

Posted Sun 7 Nov 2021

Myanmar: Private Meeting

Tomorrow (8 November), the Security Council will convene for a private meeting on Myanmar. The expected briefers are Peter Due, the Director of the Asia and Pacific Division of the UN Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations (DPPA-DPO), and Dato Erywan bin Pehin Yusof, Second Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam, who will brief in his capacity as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Special Envoy for Myanmar. The meeting was requested by the UK, the penholder on Myanmar. A draft press statement on Myanmar was circulated by the UK on 5 November. At the time of writing, it was unclear if consensus would be reached on the statement before tomorrow’s meeting.

The Council last met on Myanmar on 17 August, also in a private meeting format. Erywan, who assumed the ASEAN Special Envoy position on 4 August, and then-UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener, briefed. (Burgener ended her three-and-a-half-year term on 31 October, and the new Special Envoy, Noeleen Heyzer, will assume the position on 13 December.) That meeting focused on, among other things, the effects of the political crisis on the humanitarian situation, implementation of ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus plan and cooperation between the two Special Envoys. These issues are likely to be raised again at tomorrow’s session.

Members may be interested in more details from Due about the escalation of violence in various parts of the country. In her final press conference as Special Envoy on 21 October, Burgener urged the Council to take action, warning that the conflict is intensifying and that fighting has spread throughout the country. At tomorrow’s meeting, Due is likely to report that the security situation is increasingly fragile. The National Unity Government (NUG)—an alliance of ousted National League of Democracy politicians—called for an armed insurrection in September, and clashes between local militias, collectively known as the People’s Defence Forces (PDF), and the Myanmar Armed Forces (MAF) have intensified across the country. Members may express concern over the effects of these clashes on civilians.

A 5 November OCHA humanitarian update highlighted the escalation of fighting in the country’s northwest. It indicated that the MAF has been clashing with the Chinland Defence Force in Chin State and with local PDF militias in the Magway and Sagaing regions. It also referred to continuing violence in the northern and southern parts of Shan State, including clashes between the MAF and ethnic armed groups. Some members may express concern over the deterioration in the humanitarian, human rights and security situation in these areas as a result of the clashes. Members may also want more information on the scale of displacement caused by the fighting in these areas and inquire about the safety and security of displaced individuals, particularly women and children. In this regard, they may call for the parties to cease the violence and respect international law, while expressing concern over the conflict’s effects on civilians.

Some members may also want an update on the COVID-19 situation and on humanitarian access, which apparently remains very restricted. These members are likely to reiterate their calls for a humanitarian pause to allow for full and unimpeded humanitarian access and may ask Due what the UN is doing to facilitate greater access. Members may also be interested in whether the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Center) has been given access to deliver humanitarian aid and if there might be an opportunity for the UN to work with the AHA Center to deliver aid, including COVID-19 vaccines.

Members will be interested in hearing any details that Erywan can share about the discussion on Myanmar among ASEAN members in the lead-up to and during the 26–28 October ASEAN summit. On 15 October, at an emergency meeting, ASEAN foreign ministers could not reach consensus about whether to invite MAF commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing to the summit. Brunei Darussalam, the current ASEAN chair, instead proposed inviting a “non-political representative” to the summit, a suggestion that was accepted by all members. Myanmar, however, chose not to send a representative. Separately, the issue of Myanmar’s representation to the UN is expected to come up again at the credentials committee of the UN General Assembly in November.

At tomorrow’s meeting, members may ask about envisioned progress in the coming months on the Five-Point Consensus plan. In this regard, they might be interested in hearing about the prospects for a visit to Myanmar of the ASEAN Special Envoy before this position rotates from Brunei Darussalam to Cambodia in January 2022, when the latter will assume the chairmanship of ASEAN. In mid-October, Erywan chose not to visit Myanmar when he was told that he would not be able to meet with stakeholders such as Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s former State Counsellor, who was arrested by the military during the February government takeover. (ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus plan stated that the Special Envoy should visit Myanmar and meet with all concerned parties.)

The briefers at tomorrow’s meeting may also provide their assessment regarding the prospects for dialogue and engagement with the different parties. The regional effects of the conflict are another likely topic of discussion at the meeting.

The European members of the Council, together with Mexico and the US, have formed an informal “like-minded” group that has been trying to facilitate regular Council discussion of the situation in Myanmar. It seems that they were keen for tomorrow’s meeting to be held in an open format, but faced resistance from those, including China, that continue to want the discussion on Myanmar to be held in a closed format. It seems that members preferring to have a public meeting indicated that, if the meeting were to be closed, they wanted a Council product on the situation in Myanmar.

The draft press statement currently under discussion covers a wide range of issues. It apparently reiterates support for ASEAN’s efforts to address the crisis and for Myanmar’s democratic transition. It seems that it also references the escalation of violence in various parts of the country and emphasises the need for unhindered access for the delivery of humanitarian aid and COVID-19 vaccine. Some of these elements may be agreeable to all members, such as support for ASEAN’s efforts, but there are other areas where consensus is likely to be difficult. While members agree on the need to deescalate the situation, some members may want references not just to the actions of the military but also to those of local militias such as the PDF. Differences among members also persist over how proactive the Security Council should be in addressing this conflict, as there is a strong preference among some members to let ASEAN lead with minimal inputs from the Council. Given these differences, reaching an agreement on a more expansive press statement may prove challenging.