posted on Wed 27 Feb 2019 5:56 PM
Myanmar: Briefing and Consultations with Special Envoy

Tomorrow afternoon (28 February), Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener will brief the Security Council on her recent visits to Myanmar and Bangladesh. The briefing will be followed by consultations where members will be able to have a more interactive discussion with Burgener. Representatives from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, and possibly UNDP, will be present during the consultations to answer questions. This will be Burgener’s first public briefing to the Council.  Since her appointment as Special Envoy in April 2018, Burgener has visited Myanmar five times and Bangladesh thrice. Her most recent visit to Myanmar was from 19 to 28 January, and she was last in Bangladesh in early February.

Burgener was in Myanmar shortly after the 4 January attack by the Arakan Army on four border posts near the Bangladesh border that killed 13 police officers. The ongoing clashes between the Arakan Army and government forces have exacerbated the already difficult humanitarian and political situation in Rakhine State. The Arakan Army, a separatist group made up largely of members of the Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group, is demanding greater autonomy from the central government for Rakhine State and has clashed regularly with government forces over the years. Members may be interested in an assessment from Burgener of the prospects of this instability continuing and the impact of the fighting on the civilian population.

The question of the repatriation of the almost one million Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh to Myanmar is expected to be covered in the briefing and consultations. During their visiting mission to Myanmar last April, members saw for themselves the lack of readiness to receive refugees in Rakhine State and there may be interest in hearing if there has been progress towards creating appropriate conditions for the refugees’ safe, voluntary and sustainable repatriation. Members are also aware that the increased instability in northern Rakhine will make it even more difficult to create the appropriate conditions for refugee returns. The larger question of the long-term impact of the refugees in Bangladesh, as well as how this is affecting relations between Myanmar and Bangladesh, may be discussed in light of Burgener’s recent visit to Bangladesh and meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

While in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, Burgener visited three internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. One of the issues she focused on was freedom of movement in Rakhine State, where more than 120,000 Rohingya have been in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps since 2012. She is likely to cover some of the obstacles and potential solutions to this issue, not just for the displaced Rohingya in Rakhine state but for IDPs in other parts of Myanmar, including Kachin State. A connected issue that Burgener may cover is that of national verification cards (NVC) and how they might help address the matter of freedom of movement. The issue is controversial, as the Rohingya reject the NVC cards on the basis that they are given to foreigners while the government has said that they are issued to those residing in Myanmar and should be seen as a first step towards citizenship. Burgener may provide information on steps being taken to make the process more transparent. Related to these issues is that of the closure of IDP camps, and members may be interested in Burgener’s views on whether this is likely to happen in the near future.

Council members are also expected to discuss with Burgener the continued restricted access of UN and international humanitarian agencies, which has impeded the delivery of humanitarian access in Rakhine State. In this context, members are likely to reiterate the need for the full implementation of the memorandum of understanding between the Myanmar government, UNDP and UNHCR signed in May 2018. During consultations members may ask representatives from UNHCR and UNDP for an update on the MOU’s implementation and continuing obstacles.

During consultations there may be discussion of some of the more sensitive issues including accountability and the role of the different mechanisms that have been set up to investigate alleged human rights violations, such as the Independent Commission of Inquiry established by the Myanmar government and the Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar recently set up by the Human Rights Council. Council members may also want the views of the Special Envoy as to what sort of Council action would be useful to prompt change on the ground in Myanmar. The viability of a regional organisation like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) working with the UN in providing humanitarian assistance and assessing the conditions for the return of the refugees may also be discussed.

A Council outcome following the briefing appears unlikely. Council members are interested in hearing from the Special Envoy, but do not expect it to change Council dynamics on this issue. While some members may want to institute more regular briefings, there is likely to be pushback from China, which was not keen to have this briefing but chose not to oppose it, knowing that it would have the support of at least nine members. China is likely to continue to oppose greater Council involvement or stronger action unless there are dramatic new developments.