What's In Blue

Posted Thu 26 May 2022

Myanmar: Private Meeting

Tomorrow (27 May), the Security Council will convene for a private meeting on Myanmar. The expected briefers are UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer and Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhonn, who will brief in his capacity as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Special Envoy for Myanmar. It seems that Council members are considering issuing press elements following the meeting.

The Council last met on Myanmar on 28 January, also in a private meeting format, days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the 1 February 2021 coup. At that meeting, Council members were briefed by Heyzer, Sokhonn and then-Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham, who briefed on the humanitarian situation. (Joyce Msuya was appointed Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs in February.)

On 2 February, Council members issued a press statement expressing deep concern at the continuing state of emergency imposed in Myanmar by the military and its impact. The press statement also addressed the violence in the preceding months, the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the need to step up humanitarian assistance due to the increase in humanitarian needs.

Myanmar continues to face multiple crises. The political and security situations remain volatile, as the Myanmar military (also known as the Tatmadaw) and the People’s Defense Force (PDF)—which is comprised of local civilian militias created in response to the February 2021 coup—continue to clash in the country’s east and northwest, where the PDF have formed alliances with some ethnic armed groups. This instability has contributed to mass displacement and a worsening humanitarian crisis. According to a 4 May report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as at 2 May there were an estimated 936,700 IDPs across Myanmar, including 590,100 people displaced since 1 February 2021. In addition, Myanmar’s healthcare infrastructure is under severe strain and has struggled because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sokhonn is expected to update Council members on ASEAN’s recent consultative meeting, which was held on 6 May in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, at Cambodia’s initiative. The meeting focused on the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus and the humanitarian situation in Myanmar. (The Five-Point Consensus, which was adopted at an ASEAN summit on 25 April 2021, called for a cessation of violence, dialogue between the parties, the appointment of a special envoy of the ASEAN chair, a visit by the ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar, and the provision of humanitarian aid by ASEAN.) The meeting was co-chaired by Sokhonn and ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, in his capacity as ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Coordinator. High-level representatives of ASEAN members—including a representative from Myanmar’s de facto government—and officials from various UN agencies, including Msuya, participated in the meeting. It seems that the UN Special Envoy for Myanmar had originally been invited but the invitation was rescinded just before the meeting. The key areas discussed were the operational challenges of delivering humanitarian assistance and the framework for COVID-19 administration in Myanmar.

Heyzer is likely to provide an update on the humanitarian situation and describe the UN’s role in aid delivery to Myanmar. She may also stress the importance of providing humanitarian assistance to all those in need. Members may want to hear more about any follow-up action since the 6 May ASEAN meeting and about challenges to the delivery of aid, particularly in the border areas. Some members may underline the need for safe and unhindered access to all affected areas and seek more information from the briefers on how best to facilitate aid delivery through all existing channels. There may also be questions about the adequacy of the humanitarian aid infrastructure in the country.

It seems that some Council members are growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress in the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus, as more than a year has passed since its adoption. Although an ASEAN Special Envoy was first appointed last year and visited Myanmar in March there has been little evidence that this has led to a de-escalation in the conflict. As well, although the humanitarian situation is increasingly dire, the nascent cooperation on humanitarian assistance appears largely to be in the discussion stage.

Members are expected to express support for both the UN and ASEAN special envoys. However, while members have generally accepted that ASEAN should play a leading role in addressing the situation in Myanmar, it seems that some members have begun to question whether this is the best approach. Others, such as China, India and Russia still believe strongly that this situation is best addressed by a regional organisation. It seems that the African members are also more inclined to take this position, in line with their views on Council engagement on African issues.

Although the situation in Myanmar has continued to deteriorate, the Council has not been particularly active on this issue. Following the 2021 coup, there was a brief window for possible Council action, as members agreed on the need to respond the military takeover, but getting agreement on outcomes has become more difficult as Council members’ positions have diverged on a number of issues, such as humanitarian access and attributing responsibility for attacks. Even holding a public meeting has been met with resistance both from some Council members and the ASEAN Special Envoy. While some members may want the Council to take stronger action on Myanmar, the deepening ties between the de facto government in Myanmar, China and India may be a signal that these members are unlikely to be open to greater Council attention to Myanmar.

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