What's In Blue

Posted Mon 13 Mar 2023

Myanmar: Private Meeting*

This afternoon (13 March), the Security Council will convene for a private meeting on Myanmar. Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer and Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi are expected to brief. At the time of writing, it seems that Council members were not negotiating a Council product in connection with the meeting.

Today’s meeting is being held pursuant to resolution 2669 of 21 December 2022, which requested that the Secretary-General or his Special Envoy, in coordination with the Special Envoy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), report orally to the Council on “UN support on implementation of the Five Point Consensus”. (The Five-Point Consensus was adopted by ASEAN in April 2021 and called for an immediate cessation of violence, constructive dialogue among all parties, a special envoy of the ASEAN chair to facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, humanitarian assistance, and a visit to Myanmar by the ASEAN Special Envoy to meet all parties concerned.)

In the past, ASEAN’s Special Envoy to Myanmar has tended to be the foreign minister of the chair of ASEAN. Indonesia, which assumed ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship for 2023 in January, appears to be taking this one step further by establishing an office of the special envoy to Myanmar, headed by Marsudi.

It seems that Council members were divided regarding the format of today’s meeting, which was not specified in resolution 2669. Some members, including the UK (the penholder on the file) and the US, apparently pushed for the meeting to be public, while China and Russia argued that it should be private. It seems that Indonesia had expressed a preference for the meeting to be held in private, while also indicating that Marsudi would brief in whichever format the Council decided. Council members decided to receive the oral report in a private meeting after Indonesia communicated this preference.

At today’s meeting, Marsudi might provide an update on Indonesia’s approach to facilitating the implementation of ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus. On 11 January, Marsudi said that “only through engagement with all stakeholders can the [Five-Point Consensus] mandate regarding facilitation for the creation of a national dialogue be carried out” and noted that Indonesia “will make every effort to help Myanmar out of the political crisis”. She also acknowledged that Myanmar’s military authorities have “not made significant progress” on implementing the Five-Point Consensus. In remarks delivered during a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers that ran from 3 to 4 February, Marsudi reportedly said that the lack of progress “tests [ASEAN’s] credibility” and that its  future efforts will be coordinated with other countries and the UN.

According to media reports, Indonesia is considering appointing a military general as its special envoy to Myanmar. On 10 March, an official from Indonesia’s foreign ministry told reporters that “there are no diplomatic attempts by our generals. However, it will be announced when the time comes”. The official also appeared to imply that Indonesia is pursuing quiet diplomacy in Myanmar, saying: “if conveyed publicly, the space for diplomacy becomes very narrow”.

Council members may be interested in hearing from Marsudi regarding the dynamics within ASEAN on Myanmar. On 22 December 2022, Thailand hosted an informal meeting with three cabinet ministers from Myanmar’s military government. Representatives of Cambodia, Laos, and Viet Nam participated in the meeting, while officials from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore did not attend. In a pre-recorded interview aired on 3 March during a trip to the Philippines, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim reportedly called on ASEAN to be tougher on Myanmar.

Heyzer is expected to update Council members on the situation on the ground. On the humanitarian front, she may note that approximately 17.6 million people—nearly one third of Myanmar’s population—are estimated to be in humanitarian need in 2023 and describe the operational difficulties facing humanitarian organisations working in the country. According to OCHA’s latest humanitarian update on Myanmar, dated 4 March, humanitarian needs are rising across the country and the overall operational environment for aid organisations is “tightening”, particularly due to new requirements which were introduced after the State Administration Council (SAC)—the governing body established by Myanmar’s military—imposed new legislation on 28 October 2022. Among other matters, this legislation makes registration with the military authorities compulsory for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and prohibits contact between organisations registered under the law and groups blacklisted by the military.

Heyzer may also refer to the UN’s 2023 Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan, which calls for $764.3 million in funding from the international community. At the time of writing, the plan was 5.2 percent funded. In their statements today, some Council members might call for unhindered humanitarian assistance and express concern regarding the worsening humanitarian situation in Myanmar.

The humanitarian crisis is exacerbated by ongoing clashes between the military and various groups, including the People’s Defence Force (PDF), a collection of militias and armed units, many of which are under the control of the National Unity Government (NUG), an alliance of politicians ousted during the February 2021 coup. The fighting, which is particularly heavy in Kachin State and the southeast and northwest of the country, has escalated in recent months. According to the latest report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, which was issued on 9 March, the military has “stepped up aerial attacks, bombing villages, schools, medical facilities, and encampments for internally displaced persons (IDPs)” and continued its “campaign of mass arson”. The report also notes that more than 3,000 civilians have been killed in the last two years. In their statements today, Council members are likely to express concern regarding the ongoing violence and call for an end to attacks on civilians.

The fighting has also led to mass displacement and increased refugee flows. A 1 February emergency update from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that an estimated 1.58 million IDPs were reported across the country, 1.25 million of whom were newly displaced since the 1 February 2021 coup. As at 30 June 2022, 1.09 million refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from the Rohingya ethnic group, are living in neighbouring countries.

The situation is particularly dire for the Rohingya. In January, UNHCR reported that more than 3,500 Rohingya had attempted to leave Bangladesh and Myanmar by sea in 2022, a 360 percent increase over the previous year. On 17 February, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced that rations for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh will be cut by 17 percent due to a lack of funding. More than 12,000 Rohingya were also left homeless on 6 March when a fire swept through the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh. At today’s meeting, some Council members are likely to highlight the plight of the Rohingya and other refugees, as well as IDPs in Myanmar.

The SAC’s pledge to hold elections in August is another likely topic of discussion. On 27 January, the SAC issued legislation introducing new requirements that political parties must meet to compete in the proposed elections. Human Rights Watch has warned that this legislation will prevent key members of the political opposition from running in upcoming elections and make it “nearly impossible” for smaller parties to run. On 1 February, the SAC announced a six-month extension of the nationwide state of emergency that was first declared during the coup in February 2021. The announcement has raised questions about whether the elections will take place in August.*

The ongoing detention of political prisoners is also likely to be discussed. On 30 December 2022, Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the November 2020 election, was convicted of corruption-related offences and sentenced to a further seven years of imprisonment. Since June 2021, Suu Kyi has been sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison for a variety of offences. Other political leaders in Myanmar have also been jailed since the military seized power. Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have argued that the charges are politically motivated. At today’s meeting, some Council members may call for the release of all political prisoners detained in Myanmar.


*Post-script (14 March)An earlier version of this story said that Myanmar’s constitution prohibits the holding of elections while a state of emergency is in effect. Because interpretations of Myanmar’s 2008 constitution differ, this was removed from the story.

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