By Aman Ullah
The UN Security Council has issued a presidential statement on Myanmar complimenting and criticising the country over its stance on the Rohingya crisis and it also gave the government a month to “get its act together”. The 1,300- word statement was read out by the sitting President of UNSC Sebastiano Cardi, the Ambassador of Italy, at a formal UNSC session on Momday ( November 6, 2017) .
The council expressed “grave concern” over human rights violations, “including by the Myanmar security forces” against the Rohingya such as killing, sexual violence and burning of homes and property.
A presidential statement is a statement made by the President of the Security Council on behalf of the Council, adopted at a formal meeting of the Council and issued as an official document of the Council.
A Presidential Statement is often created when the United Nations Security Council cannot reach consensus or are prevented from passing a resolution by a permanent member’s veto, or threat thereof. Such statements are similar in content, format, and tone to resolutions, but are not legally binding. The adoption of a Presidential Statement requires consensus, although Security Council members may abstain. The Statement is signed by the sitting Security Council President.
It was the first presidential statement in 10 years on Myanmar. The Security Council has adopted such statements against Myanmar only three times, with the last one coming a decade ago. Diplomats hailed the move as a unified international stand against a humanitarian crisis that has been called “ethnic cleansing” by the U.N., U.S., France and the U.K.
It strongly condemned attacks against the Myanmar security forces carried out by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on August 25, and then expressed “grave concern” over the government’s response, the alleged burning of villages and threats to villagers to flee, among others.
It called for reform in Myanmar’s security and justice sectors and urged the government to work with Bangladesh and the UN to allow the voluntary return of refugees to their homes, on the basis of an October 24 memorandum of understanding between the two country.
The panel welcomed a “union enterprise mechanism” for humanitarian assistance, resettlement and development in Rakhine.
It recommended the government ensure the mechanism supported such return and allow UN agencies full access, urging governments and all humanitarian partners to pay special attention to the needs of women, particular survivors of sexual violence.
The council said the government’s primary responsibility is the protection of Myanmar’s population, citizens or not. The statement reiterated concerns and demands previously laid out: an end to excessive military force in Rakhine province, a lack of humanitarian access for the U.N., a right of return for refugees, and steps to address the root causes of the conflict. The statement included most of the demands contained in a draft resolution presented last month by Britain and France, but that measure ran into strong opposition from China, a supporter of Myanmar’s former ruling junta.
It is said that, China had indicated it was willing to resort to its veto power to block a resolution, but Beijing finally agreed to a statement during negotiations.
The action is one step below a Security Council resolution in diplomatic significance, but a step above the Council’s previous action, a “press statement,” in September.
The statement requires the U.N. Secretary General António Guterres to report back to the Council within 30 days on Myanmar’s progress in addressing the Council’s demands. The statement isn’t as binding as a resolution would be, and carries no punitive measures, such as sanctions, if corrective steps aren’t taken.
Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, Hau Do Suan, told the Council that the statement “will not help our efforts for solving the issue, rather [it will] lead to further polarization and escalation of tensions among different religious communities in the country and beyond.”
The Security Council has held a series of meetings on Myanmar since September, including a briefing attended by high-level officials on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly gathering. But efforts to respond forcefully have stalled despite widespread reports of deaths, rapes and torture of Rohingya Muslim minorities, including women and children, at the hands of the country’s military.
Violence erupted in August after a Rohingya militant group attacked Myanmar security forces. Since late August, more than 600,000 Rohingya have been driven from their homes by an army campaign that the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar authorities say the military operation is aimed at rooting out Rohingya militants who staged attacks on police posts.
The Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and have been denied citizenship since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless.
Council members called for full access for humanitarian aid workers to Rakhine and said the government must address the root causes of the crisis by allowing “equal access to full citizenship.”
During negotiations with China, language on citizenship rights was watered down in the statement as was a demand that Myanmar allow a UN human rights mission into the country, diplomats said.
The statement calls on Myanmar to cooperate with the United Nations and encourages UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to appoint a special advisor on Myanmar.
British Deputy UN Ambassador Jonathan Allen said despite the decision to drop the resolution, the council was issuing a strong, united message. “The important thing is the content,” Allen told reporters. “Gaining a very strong, unanimous statement I think was the real prize here.”
The council statement was agreed as Guterres prepares to travel to Manila this week to join leaders of the Southeast Asian (ASEAN) bloc for a summit.
The council also welcomed the Myanmar government’s public support for recommendations by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and called for their full implementation.
It urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to consider appointing a special advisor on Myanmar.
Since the August attacks, over 604,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh. Some fled by land, others in boats over an inlet of the Bay of Bengal.
In the last two weeks, 4,000 refugees entered Bangladesh while four people drowned in a shipwreck while fleeing, officials said.
U.K Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said: I am pleased that today (6 November) the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has spoken with one voice on the appalling situation in Rakhine State, Burma. The UK has repeatedly called on the Burmese security forces to protect all civilians and act now to stop the violence and allow humanitarian aid to urgently reach all those who need it. The UNSC has today joined us in that call, with this historic Presidential Statement on Burma.
I am encouraged to see State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi making important steps forward, including establishing a domestic body to deliver humanitarian and development assistance in Rakhine, and making efforts to promote interfaith and intercommunal harmony, including a recent visit to northern Rakhine. The UK will be watching closely to ensure that the Burmese security forces do not attempt to frustrate these efforts.
I also applaud the work of the Bangladesh government, which is working hard to ensure the refugees receive urgent aid. The recent agreements between Burma and Bangladesh are welcome, and I hope they can now make swift progress on the voluntary, safe, and dignified returns of refugees to Burma. The Burmese security forces must take steps to ensure the right conditions are in place for refugees to return.”
The U.K. and France initially circulated a proposed Security Council resolution on Myanmar in late October, but China and Russia refused to engage and negotiate, diplomats said. China finally agreed to a similar text with minor changes as a presidential statement—which carries less weight than a resolution—and Russia followed suit.
Mr. Guterres has been outspoken about the Myanmar crisis and urged the Security Council to prevent continued bloodshed and curb the refugee flow. Mr. Guterres will be among the world leaders attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit later this week in Manila.
The Rohingya refugee crisis is expected to be a top issue of discussion at the summit, to be attended by US President Donald Trump, who will dispatch US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Myanmar later this month. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will also attend that summit.
Rights groups have accused the Security Council of dragging its feet and are calling for sanctions against those involved in the atrocities in Rakhine.