Briefing by Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, to the Informal Meeting of the General Assembly on Myanmar
Members of the General Assembly,
It is now exactly four weeks since I was in contact with all stakeholders in Myanmar as the army insisted that the State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi meet three conditions and threatened a takeover. She did not agree to these conditions, but dialogue appeared to follow and I hoped until the end that the attempted coup would not take place. Unfortunately, it did happen.
I told you in 2019 that I would sound the alarm if necessary. This is now the case. I am ringing the alarm bells.
I strongly condemn the recent steps taken by the military and urge all of you to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar.
At this moment, democratic processes have been pushed aside and elected leaders including the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President of the Union Republic remain detained.
I have warned many times that, as we support Myanmar’s transition, the urgency in helping lay the foundations of a pluralistic democracy should be balanced with due consideration for the various complex domestic challenges the civilian leadership faces.
I have tried again and again to explain the complex situation, namely that the army holds the real power. Three ministries were occupied by members of the army, and the police in particular were subordinate to it.
Genuine democracy requires civilian control over the military.
25 per cent of parliamentary seats were reserved for the army under the military-drafted 2008 Constitution. Changing the Constitution requires more than 75 per cent of votes.
You can imagine the challenges this posed for the National League for Democracy (NLD) Government in its pursuit of democratic reforms.
The military was not only an obstacle before but has initiated reversing the process of many positive measures introduced by the NLD leaders.
Instead of resorting differences to established legal mechanisms, the military exploited differences to try to justify an attempted coup.
I say “attempted,” since the takeover has not stabilized, it would appear to be roundly rejected by the people.
It is important the international community does not lend legitimacy or recognition to this regime.
I also say “Coup,” because the military takeover and declaration of the state of emergency was a clear violation of the constitution regardless of what they claim.
Meanwhile, democratically elected representatives were able to be sworn in according to the Constitution on 4 February and have formed the Committee Representing Pyidaungu Hluttaw (CRPH).
These parliamentarians have courageously sought to uphold their obligations to serve the people who voted for them and it is important they are given a platform.
As I briefed the Security Council on 2 February, the genuine will of the people of Myanmar must be upheld. The result of the election of November 2020 was clear with 82 per cent of the votes for the NLD.
There is no justification for the military’s actions, and we must continue to call for the reversal of this impermissible situation, exhausting all collective and bilateral channels to restore Myanmar’s path on democratic reform.
Despite attempts by the military and its appointed officials to justify its ongoing violations, including the killing of peaceful protestors and the continued detention of political leaders, civil servants and others, let us be clear there can be no “business as usual” under the current circumstances.
Before this crisis, Myanmar was opening up, including economically, following decades of military rule. It had become interconnected to the global economy, supply chain, investment and banking.
This brought with it not only the potential for national prosperity, but a sense among the people of Myanmar that positive opportunities long denied to them could follow.
Going back to isolation will bring economic and political pains the people do not deserve.
Protection of Civilians, Fundamental Rights and Freedoms
The Secretary-General has called on Myanmar’s military and police to ensure the right of peaceful assembly is fully respected and demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals.
According to the NGO ‘Assistance Association for Political Prisoners,’ around 700 individuals have been detained, many arbitrarily and without charges, trials and legal representation, and families are not able to locate or contact them.
Equally concerning are the restrictions on internet and communication services. They must not be disrupted to ensure the right to freedom of expression, which includes access to information.
Ongoing violence, intimidation and harassment by security personnel, and deliberate acts to create insecurity and instability, as well as the enactment of draconian laws which deprive people of their basic human rights, are egregious. some of them are also in violation of their own Constitution.
We should not forget that most of the civil servants hired by the NLD government are still in office. Many have been intimated and harassed, forced to change sides. This also affects Myanmar’s Embassies around the world.
The ethnic armed groups who are signatories to the historic 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement collectively announced to suspend dialogue with the military. This is remarkable and reflects the major setbacks the current situation has created.
The military’s decision to release around 23,000 prisoners, among them those associated with political murders and divisive figures who have incited communal tensions, is regretful.
Weaponizing such individuals to cause unrest and fear is gross betrayal to the people the military has sworn to protect.
No leader with the greater national interest genuinely in mind would create this level of chaos during a pandemic, which requires an effective, inclusive response.
An important opportunity to build unity across the country in the fight against COVID-19 has been lost and is a great danger for the people in Myanmar but also for the region.
Mr. President, let me give some remarks on human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.
The United Nations system will continue to stand with the people of Myanmar, and I appreciate the Security Council’s call for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need.
Humanitarian need in Myanmar remains acute, with more than one million people in need, with many of those living in areas currently or previously subject to conflict with the military.
For the 126,000 Rohingya who remain confined in IDP camps in Rakhine, there must be genuine progress to provide them freedom of movement and durable solution to return to their homes.
We must ask, how can we rely on a military regime when the very same led the security operations leading to the human rights violations and forced displacement of Rohingya people and others from their homes?
In my discussions with the military leadership after the attempted coup, I was given assurances that efforts initiated by the NLD Government towards creating conducive conditions for the dignified, voluntary, safe and sustainable repatriation of the Rohingya refugees to their place of origin or choice would continue.
However, recent reports the military will launch investigations into the work of Advisory Commission on Rakhine State initiated by Kofi Annan and take action against those who acted – I quote – “in the self-interest of an individual without taking national interests into consideration” is deeply concerning. The same has been announced for the activities of the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE). So all who worked to protect Rohingyas and were in favour of accountability are now under threat.
We must be clear: accountability for previous and current crimes will not go unpunished.
Mr. President, we have a collective responsibility. In my discussions with the military leadership, including several calls with the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, I have echoed these concerns, amplified the Secretary-General’s advocacy and requested to visit Myanmar under the condition I can meet with detained government leaders.
My intention was to convey directly the concerns of the international community and help resolve differences through peaceful dialogue with the aim of upholding the will of the Myanmar people.
Regrettably, the current regime has so far asked me to postpone any visit. It seems they want to continue making large-scale arrests and have been coercing people to testify against the NLD Government. This is cruel and inhumane.
It is true, my unique access to key stakeholders in Myanmar, including civilian and military leaders, has allowed me to relay directly international concerns, give hope to affected communities and CSO leaders through continued dialogue.
My visit was also intended to assess the situation directly. For this reason, I had hoped to keep channels open, face those responsible for the current situation and build on existing relations to persuade a reversal of this crisis.
As I have in the past, I hoped to channel many of the shared concerns and messages based on my regular consultations with many of you.
If the regime is not giving access or accepting UN visits needed for these purposes, influential Member States could play an important role and support efforts to undertake objective assessments.
Member States gathered today have a collective responsibility towards the people of Myanmar and safeguard their democratic aspirations.
I reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for Member States to exercise influence regarding the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Myanmar.
I have been in close contact with a range of stakeholders, including in the region, and appreciate their various efforts and continued support for my role and mandate.
The Security Council’s 4 February statement was an important first step but our solidarity with the people of Myanmar requires more action.
I seek to continue my role as a bridge, in close continued consultations with elected NLD representatives and help facilitate their dialogue with the military as appropriate.
Clearly, regional engagement is needed on all fronts and I will remain closely engaged, including with ASEAN leaders, reinforcing the Secretary-General’s support to regional efforts.
Mr. President, let me conclude.
The situation in Myanmar is extremely fragile and fluid.
Observing the huge protests in the country and listening to the people, I must say it is not about a fight between NLD and Tatmadaw; it is a people’s fight without arms.
If there is any escalation in terms of military crackdown – and sadly as we have seen this before in Myanmar – against people exercising their basic rights, let us act swiftly and collectively.
We can no longer afford profound divisions.
In closing, I would like to highlight that the Secretary-General has demonstrated early leadership in previous weeks, as he did in his letter addressed to the Security Council on 2 September 2017, urging concerted efforts to prevent further escalation of the crisis in Rakhine.
If the numerous discussions here at the General Assembly and in the Security Council continue to fall short of a forceful and timely response, perhaps existing structures are indeed in need of reforms in keeping with the times.
I call on all states to take side for the people of Myanmar, to take side for democracy and human rights.
May you as Member States uphold your responsibilities.