Myanmar: Closed Consultations*
This afternoon (23 August), Security Council members will convene for closed consultations on Myanmar. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari are expected to brief. The UK, the penholder on the file, requested the meeting.
Griffiths is expected to update Council members on his recent visit to Myanmar, which took place from 14 to 17 August. During the visit, Griffiths met with people affected by conflict and natural disasters, including Rakhine and Rohingya communities in Rakhine State, which was severely affected by Cyclone Mocha in May. Griffiths also met with General Min Aung Hlaing—the leader of Myanmar’s military and chairman of the State Administration Council (SAC), the governing body established by Myanmar’s military during the February 2021 coup—and other military officials. According to a 17 August OCHA press release, during his meetings with the military, Griffiths raised concerns regarding the protection risks facing civilians in conflict areas and the bureaucratic constraints encountered by humanitarian organisations attempting to reach them. At the conclusion of his visit, Griffiths called for expanded humanitarian access in Myanmar and increased funding for the humanitarian response from the international community.
Griffiths may provide an update on the overall humanitarian situation in Myanmar and highlight the current lack of funding for the 2023 Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan. According to OCHA, nearly 18 million people—approximately one-third of the population—require humanitarian assistance in 2023. OCHA’s latest update on Myanmar, which was published on 15 July, notes that “active conflict and disaster are driving new and worsening humanitarian needs in the country” and indicates that limited access remains a significant challenge for humanitarian organisations, particularly in areas affected by Cyclone Mocha, where the SAC has suspended efforts to address the cyclone’s impact since early June. Despite the scale of the crisis, the 2023 Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan, which requires $886.7 million, was only 25.4 percent funded at the time of writing.
The ongoing conflict in Myanmar and the effects of Cyclone Mocha have also contributed to worsening levels of food insecurity in the country. In a 31 July update, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that food insecurity in Myanmar is at critical levels due to reduced agricultural production in 2022, intensified conflict, and record food prices, as well as Cyclone Mocha’s “devastating effects”, and warned that the situation could deteriorate further in the second half of 2023. Numbers of internally displaced people in Myanmar have also continued to rise. According to the latest update of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an estimated 1.93 million people were internally displaced within Myanmar as at 31 July, 1.6 million of whom have been displaced since the 1 February 2021 coup, a seven percent increase since UNHCR’s last emergency update was published in May.
During today’s meeting, Council members may express concern regarding the humanitarian situation in Myanmar and emphasise the importance of unhindered access for humanitarian organisations. Members may also highlight that resolution 2669 reiterated the need for full, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access and scaled up humanitarian assistance to Myanmar. (Resolution 2669 was adopted on 21 December 2022 and was the first resolution on the situation in Myanmar since the file was added to the Council’s agenda in 2006.) Some members may be especially interested in hearing from Griffiths regarding his discussions with military officials, particularly his meeting with General Min Aung Hlaing.
Khiari is likely to focus on recent political developments in Myanmar, including the military’s 31 July announcement that it had postponed elections previously anticipated for August and extended the nationwide state of emergency, first declared during the February 2021 coup, for the fourth time. Members may also want to hear Khiari’s analysis of the effect that the ongoing violence and the 28 March dissolution of 40 political parties—including the National League for Democracy (NLD), the opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi—may have on the elections proposed by the military. Some members could ask Khiari for an update on the appointment of a new Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar. The post has remained vacant since the contract of the previous Special Envoy, Noeleen Heyzer, ended on 12 June.
Council members might also discuss the escalating violence in Myanmar. In this regard, members may refer to the 28 June report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which focused on the human rights impact of the denial of humanitarian access in the country. Among other matters, the report concluded that the “four cuts” policy pursued by the military, which aims to cut opposition groups’ access to food, funds, intelligence, and recruits, “has killed and injured thousands of civilians while destroying goods and infrastructure necessary for survival, including food, shelter, and medical centres”. The report also determined that the military has violated its international obligations by targeting “humanitarian actions and actors through an all-encompassing system of military measures and the instrumentalisation of the legal and administrative spheres” and found that some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity. In this context, Council members might mention the fifth annual report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), dated 30 June, which said that there is strong evidence that the military has committed certain types of war crimes “with increasing frequency and brazenness”. (The IIMM was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 to collect and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes and other violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011.)
The role played by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in efforts to resolve the crisis in Myanmar is another possible topic of discussion. Council members are likely to express their support for ASEAN and for cooperation between the regional organisation and the UN, while also calling for the full implementation of its Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar. The Five-Point Consensus, which ASEAN adopted in April 2021, called for an immediate cessation of violence, constructive dialogue among all parties, the appointment of 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.
Internal divisions within ASEAN have made it difficult for the organisation to take meaningful action on Myanmar. These divisions were on display in mid-June when Thailand’s interim government convened a regional meeting with officials from Myanmar’s military. Five other ASEAN members —Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, and Viet Nam—were represented at the meeting, along with China and India, while current ASEAN Chair Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore did not attend. According to media reports, Thailand’s invitation to the meeting said that ASEAN should “fully reengage with Myanmar at the leaders’ level”. (Myanmar’s military leaders are currently barred from attending high-level ASEAN meetings for failing to honour their commitments under the Five-Point Consensus.)
In remarks delivered at the outset of the 56th ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting, held on 11 and 12 July, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi reportedly stressed the importance of ASEAN unity and said that ASEAN “can only matter if it has credibility”. The communiqué issued following the meeting strongly condemned the continuing violence in Myanmar, reaffirmed “ASEAN unity”, and called for continued support from the UN and neighbouring countries, asking them “to work with ASEAN for concrete implementation of the [Five-Point Consensus]”. Possible options for further UN support for the Five-Point Consensus may be discussed during the 43rd ASEAN summit, which will take place in early September and is expected to be attended by Secretary-General António Guterres.
Several Council members may highlight the situation of the Rohingya during this afternoon’s meeting. In a 20 August statement, Human Rights Watch noted that one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh “face little prospect of safely returning home” and currently live in “sprawling, overcrowded camps under growing restrictions by the authorities and spiralling violence by armed groups”. On 22 August, UNHCR issued a press release calling for renewed commitment from the international community to sustain the humanitarian response and political solutions for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. In discussing this issue, some members may say that any repatriation of Rohingya refugees must be voluntary, safe, dignified and conducted in accordance with international law.
Council dynamics on Myanmar remain challenging, with some Council members advocating stronger Council action and others opposing such measures. At today’s meeting, members who favour further action may refer to possible options, which could include requesting a recurring report from the UN Secretariat, holding regular public meetings, or imposing sanctions that restrict the flow of arms and other military supplies with a view to reducing the level of violence in the country.
Following the passage of the BURMA Act in December 2022, which requires US President Joe Biden to direct the US Permanent Representative to the UN to spur greater action by the Council on Myanmar, the US has apparently discussed proposals for potential additional steps with other Council members. While China has often taken the lead in opposing strong action on Myanmar in the Council, it seems that Russia has become increasingly engaged, as it has strengthened its ties with the military regime and in negotiations of outcomes has often opposed language that singled out the military.
Following this afternoon’s meeting, the UK is expected to deliver a joint statement on Myanmar on behalf of several other Council members.
Post-script: The joint statement delivered by the UK following the meeting strongly condemned the killing of civilians in Myanmar, particularly the continued use of airstrikes, and reaffirmed the need to respect international law and protect civilians. Among other matters, the statement noted with concern that there has been insufficient progress on the calls made by the Council in resolution 2669, which relate to: the immediate release of all arbitrarily detained prisoners; the need to fully respect human rights and uphold the rule of law; respect for the democratic will of the people of Myanmar; swift and full implementation of ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus; the need to address the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine State; and the full protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities. Every Council member except for China and Russia signed the statement.