posted on Thu 27 Aug 2015 10:22 PM
Briefing on Myanmar

Tomorrow (28) August, at the request of the UK, Council members will be briefed during informal consultations by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, during “Any Other Business” (AOB). Nambiar, who last briefed the Council in April, was in Myanmar in early August. In addition, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović will be present to answer questions on human rights issues in Myanmar. The briefing is expected to update Council members on negotiations on a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), preparations for the 8 November elections and the situation situation in Rakhine State. No outcome is planned following the briefing.

Talks between the Myanmar government and rebel groups have been held on and off for over 18 months. A delegation of representatives from the groups is expected to meet with Myanmar President U Thein Sein in early September. The NCA is now close to being finalised and members are likely to be interested in hearing about the negotiations and final sticking points to signing the agreement. The final issue that needs to be resolved is the number of ethnic armies that will be allowed to sign the agreement. The Myanmar government is insisting that only groups that are already committed to a bilateral ceasefire are eligible. As a result six of the 21 armed groups may not be able to sign. Among the groups that are affected are three groups which have been in recent fighting with the Myanmar army – the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the ethnic Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA)—and it wants to exclude three smaller groups—the Wa National Organization (WNO), Lahu Army and Arakan National Council (ANC), which do not have soldiers. Members will be interested in whether the government may eventually allow these groups to sign the ceasefire agreement. Some members may also want Nambiar’s assessment of the likely success of the agreement in consolidating the ceaseefire and stress the significance of getting the NCA signed.

Many members will be looking for a better understanding of the implications of the ousting of Thura Shwe Mann, the chair of the ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Government forces are reported to have surrounded the party’s headquarters when he was removed. Some Council members may share their concern that this may be a sign of the Myanmar military tightening control over the USDP in the lead up to the elections. Members may also be concerned about possible closing of democratic space and may want to know from both Nambiar and Šimonović if there are any signs of increasing restrictions on freedom of expression or voter disenfranchisement in the lead up to the elections.

When High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein briefed members on 28 May, the situation of the Rohingya and the related migration crisis in Southeast Asia were the main focus. Some Council members may take advantage of Šimonović’s presence to ask about the human rights situation in Rakhine State. Following her visit to Myanmar in early August,the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said that “some serious human rights violations have occurred” in Rakhine state. Lee, who was not allowed to travel to Rakhine State during her visit, expressed concern over restrictions on the freedom of movement of the Muslim community and lack of access to basic health care and education. Some members may want to know if there are any signs of movement towards addressing the legal status of the Rohingya and the institutionalised discrimination faced by this group.

The UK, the penholder on Myanmar, seems keen to have more attention paid to this issue in the lead up to the elections. This is the third briefing on Myanmar this year. For some years Council members have only discussed this issue in informal consultations. under AOB. In the lead-up to the November elections some members may be interested in more regular briefings, including public meetings, on political and human rights developments. However, China, which has never been keen to have Myanmar on the Council’s agenda, may be resistant to greater public attention paid to the situation.