What's In Blue

Myanmar: Open Briefing

Tomorrow morning (4 April), the Security Council is expected to convene for an open briefing on Myanmar. The anticipated briefers are Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari and OCHA’s Director of the Financing and Partnerships Division Lisa Doughten. At time of writing, it was unclear whether there would be a request for a procedural vote on the agenda. It seems that if a vote takes place, nine or more members are likely to vote in favour of holding the meeting. If the meeting proceeds as scheduled, it will be the first open briefing on Myanmar since February 2019. Since then, the Council has discussed Myanmar in closed formats, including private meetings and consultations, only holding a public meeting on this agenda item to adopt resolution 2669 of 21 December 2022. Several member states have indicated an interest in participating at tomorrow’s meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, including Indonesia and Malaysia.

The meeting is expected to focus on the situation in Rakhine State. Since November 2023, when an informal year-long ceasefire between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar Armed Forces (MAF), also known as Tatmadaw, ended, there has been an intensification of the fighting in Rakhine. The Arakan Army has taken over seven of the state’s 17 townships since then, and appears poised to take control of two more.

In an 18 March press statement, Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern over the deteriorating situation and reiterated his call for the protection of all civilians, including humanitarian aid workers. He also called on all parties to prevent incitement of communal tensions and said that he was “alarmed by reports of ongoing airstrikes by the military”, including in Minbya township on that day “that reportedly killed and injured many civilians”. Guterres also expressed concern over the forcible detention and recruitment of young people and the “potential impact of forced conscription on human rights and on the social fabric of communities in Myanmar”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Khiari is expected to echo some of the points made by the Secretary-General in this press statement. He may also elaborate on events that have led to the escalation in Rakhine, including the launching of “Operation 1027” in late October 2023 by the Three Brotherhood Alliance, a military alliance formed among the armed groups the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Arakan Army. The operation pushed the Myanmar military out from some towns in the northern part of Myanmar. The success of this operation sparked greater cooperation among the armed groups.

Khiari may also describe the larger context in the country affecting the situation in Rakhine, including the prospects of a nationwide election. 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—told Russian news agency Tass that the SAC plans to conduct an election, even if it is unable to hold it nationwide. Members may be interested in hearing Khiari’s assessment of the possibility of an election and the significance of Hlaing’s comment.

In their statements, many Council members are expected to stress that airstrikes by the military against civilians need to cease immediately. In this context, they may also highlight violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Members are also likely to raise the issue of forced conscription and its effects on the population in Rakhine. The Myanmar military has enacted a compulsory conscription law that had been dormant since 2010. Starting in April, all men aged between 18 and 25 and all women aged between 18 and 27 are required to serve in the military for up to two years. Of particular concern is that the potential conscription of the Rohingya, many of whom are in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, could inflame already existing tensions between the Rohingya and other groups in Rakhine.

Doughten is expected to elaborate on issues related to humanitarian access in Rakhine as well as the overall humanitarian situation in Myanmar. As the fighting escalated in late January, the UN and other international humanitarian organisations were forced to move their staff out of Rakhine. Members are likely to be interested in hearing about the current impediments facing aid workers. They may also be interested in the state of healthcare in Rakhine. On 16 January, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said that due to restrictions they were unable to run their mobile clinics in Rakhine State and warned of a “catastrophic impact on people’s health”.

OCHA’s latest humanitarian update, published on 3 March, reported that the renewed conflict in Rakhine since November 2023 has reportedly led to the killing of 170 civilians and injury of 400 people. OCHA has also estimated that 157,000 people have been displaced during this period. Doughten may also highlight urgent funding needs. At the end of 2023, OCHA published its 2024 Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan for Myanmar, which said that a third of the population was estimated to be in humanitarian need, including six million children. OCHA is seeking $994 million for relief efforts in 2024. In 2023, only 32 percent of the requested funding was received, leaving a $600 million funding gap.

Council members are expected to express concern about the humanitarian situation in Rakhine. Some members may highlight the difficulties that humanitarian organisations operating in the area are facing and emphasise the importance of unhindered access for humanitarian organisations. Members may also stress that resolution 2669 reiterated the need for full, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access and scaled up humanitarian assistance to Myanmar. (Resolution 2669 was the first resolution on the situation in Myanmar since the file was added to the Council’s agenda in 2006.)

Some members may also raise the situation of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Between 2017 and 2019, developments in Rakhine State and the situation of the Rohingya were regularly discussed by Council members following the exodus of more than 700,000 refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh, which was sparked by the violent reaction of the Myanmar military to the 25 August 2017 attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on security posts. Since then, the refugees have stayed in Cox’s Bazar, joining almost 200,000 refugees that were displaced following previous waves of violence. While there was increased energy around the Rohingya issue following the Security Council’s visiting mission to Bangladesh and Myanmar between 28 April and 2 May 2018, the military coup and conflict have rendered repatriation impossible.

It has been difficult to get agreement on holding an open Security Council meeting on Myanmar, largely due to opposition from China, supported by Russia. It seems that focusing the meeting on Rakhine may have been acceptable to these members, as they have acknowledged in the past that the conflict in Rakhine State has an international peace and security aspect. At tomorrow’s meeting, some members that have been pushing for more active Council engagement may suggest the need for a new resolution that could include stronger measures such as sanctions. They are also likely to highlight the overall deterioration in the security situation in Myanmar and call for greater accountability. Other members may maintain a narrower focus on the situation in Rakhine.

The UK, the penholder on Myanmar, apparently called for this open meeting following difficulty getting agreement on a press statement that was largely based on the Secretary-General’s 18 March statement. Since the adoption of resolution 2669 in December 2022, Council members have not been able to agree on a product on Myanmar. The UK has apparently indicated that it has prepared a draft resolution. At the time of writing, it was unclear when the penholder will circulate the text. Tomorrow’s meeting may provide some insights into members’ views on possible options for the Council in addressing the situation in Myanmar.

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