What's In Blue

Posted Tue 2 Jul 2024

Myanmar: Meeting under “Any Other Business”

Tomorrow morning (3 July), following the consultations on Haiti, Security Council members are expected to discuss the humanitarian situation in Myanmar under “any other business”. The Republic of Korea (ROK), the UK, and the US requested the meeting after a World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse was looted and burned in the town of Maungdaw in Rakhine State on 22 June. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya is the anticipated briefer.

A 26 June WFP statement condemned the looting and noted that the warehouse contained 1,175 metric tonnes of life-saving food and supplies. It added that ongoing armed clashes have prevented the WFP from accessing the warehouse since late May. According to OCHA’s 1 July humanitarian update, two humanitarian facilities in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Sittwe Township in Rakhine have been “occupied by a party to the conflict” since the third week of June. The update describes other recent incidents, noting that offices of two international organisations in Maungdaw had been “temporarily occupied” in early June and two UN vehicles had been “temporarily detained”, also in mid-June.

Members are likely to be interested in receiving more information about these developments at tomorrow’s meeting. Some members may stress that these incidents, if confirmed, constitute a violation of international humanitarian law. These members might underscore that all parties to the conflict have obligations to protect and respect civilians, aid workers, and humanitarian facilities and assets, while mentioning in this regard resolution 2730 of 24 May which addresses this issue.

OCHA’s 1 July update also highlights that the recent attacks and occupation of humanitarian facilities have increased the risks for “both humanitarian personnel and the populations they serve”. Against this backdrop, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced on 27 June the suspension of its activities in the townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung. MSF’s statement cited the extreme escalation of violence and severe restrictions on humanitarian access in northern Rakhine State, noting that its office and pharmacy in Buthidaung were burned down in mid-April. These restrictions have made it difficult to operate and provide healthcare services to the population in those townships, according to MSF. Members are likely to be interested in hearing Msuya’s suggestions on what more can be done to protect humanitarian personnel in the area and facilitate the principled provision of humanitarian assistance.

The need to protect civilians in Rakhine State may also be raised by Council members during tomorrow’s meeting. The situation there has deteriorated markedly since November 2023, when an informal year-long ceasefire between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar armed forces ended. In an 18 June statement at an interactive dialogue on Myanmar at the Human Rights Council (HRC), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk noted that his office is investigating reports of attacks against civilians in Rakhine State and the Sagaing region, where “large numbers” of civilians were allegedly killed in airstrikes, naval artillery barrages, and shootings. He also said that residents in those areas are being asked to evacuate and towns and villages are being burned.

The escalation of conflict in Rakhine State has led to rising levels of violence and intercommunal tensions that have forced thousands of people to flee their homes, leading to an increase in the already high number of IDPs. Council members may describe these developments as particularly worrying, given the history of intercommunal violence in this area, which is home to the Rohingya people, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority group in Myanmar. In August 2017, attacks by Rohingya armed groups on police posts led to retaliatory attacks by the Myanmar military and the exodus of about 759,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh. These refugees, together with another 300,000 that had fled earlier, have been in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh since then, with diminishing hopes of returning to Rakhine State.

Council members have been monitoring the changing situation in Myanmar. Since the start of the year, members have convened two formal meetings on Myanmar—a private meeting on 5 February and an open briefing on 4 April—and an Arria-formula meeting, an informal format, on 29 May. (For more information, see our 4 February, 3 April, and 28 May What’s in Blue stories.)

It has been more difficult to agree on a product on Myanmar. In May, as the situation in Rakhine State deteriorated, the UK (the penholder on Myanmar) circulated a draft press statement on the situation to Council members. The draft text apparently expressed deep concern over the escalation of conflict in Rakhine State, reiterated the Council’s demands for an end to the violence and its support for the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, and called for unhindered humanitarian access and the full implementation of resolution 2669, among other matters. It appears that the press statement was blocked after China and Russia expressed opposition to the draft.

Since the adoption of resolution 2669 in December 2022, Council members have not been able to agree on a product on Myanmar, and the UK appears unlikely to pursue a draft press statement at this stage. At tomorrow’s meeting, many members are expected to reiterate some of the points from the May draft text. Some members may also suggest the need for stronger Council action, including a follow-up to resolution 2669. While there seems to be openness from some members for a new resolution, with a new Special Envoy, Julie Bishop, having been appointed by the Secretary-General on 5 April, other members may see such Council action as potentially impeding her work. However, if the situation continues to deteriorate, some members may push for a draft resolution to be considered sooner rather than later.

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