Thank you for the invitation to brief on recent developments in Myanmar. I welcome the participation of Ambassador Hau Do Suan as well as Ambassador Masud Bin Momen. I also welcome being joined by Ms. Pramila Patten, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
The estimated number of refugees who entered Bangladesh since 25 August now exceeds 626,000. As the Secretary-General underlined in his 2 September letter to the Council, we need collectively to encourage the adoption of policies to end the vicious cycle of discrimination, violence and displacement in Rakhine.
The Council’s 6 November Presidential Statement (PRST) reaffirming the sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity and unity of Myanmar noted that the Government holds the primary responsibility to protect its population, through rule of law and the respect, promotion and protection of human rights.
During my October visit, I explored with the authorities potential United Nations support in these key areas.
My visit followed shortly after State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s 12 October address responding to the humanitarian concerns in Rakhine and the return of refugees from Bangladesh. We welcome the State Counsellor’s decision to establish the Union Enterprise Mechanism as well as the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on returns between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
We are also encouraged by the announcement that the new Advisory Commission comprising of international experts and the Committee for Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State will meet in early January to finalise action plans to rehabilitate and develop the region. We hope plans will swiftly be followed by action.
The State Counsellor’s visit to Rakhine on 2 November was an important step. We urge all Myanmar leaders, including in the military, to condemn incitement to racial hatred and violence. We encourage them to adopt measures to defuse tensions between communities and create an environment for safe and dignified repatriation, including through interfaith initiatives.
We have highlighted to the authorities that the capacities, best practices, and extensive experience of the United Nations can help in implementing their stated intentions in a timely and effective manner.
Although violence has subsided, new refugees continue to arrive in Bangladesh, albeit at slower rates. These refugees arrive exhausted, destitute and traumatized. The Government of Bangladesh estimates that more than 36,000 unaccompanied children arrived with no immediate family support system. During November, arsons in Rakhine State appeared to lessen, but recent satellite imagery revealed renewed fires and related destruction in different villages.
Humanitarian access to Rakhine State remains insufficient. Although Myanmar permitted some ICRC and more recently WFP assistance, access by other UN agencies and partners to northern Rakhine is still highly restricted. Issuance of travel authorizations has eased in central Rakhine, but large numbers of staff still lack these permits due to cumbersome procedures.
We are all grateful for the continued generosity of the Government and people of Bangladesh, and we call on the international community to continue to support these efforts. But the origins and solutions to the Rohingya crisis rest in Myanmar. Repatriation and reconciliation policies will fail without accountability and non-discriminatory rule of law and public safety measures to address the fears and distrust among communities in Rakhine.
On 23 November, Myanmar and Bangladesh reached a bilateral agreement on the issue of returns. The agreement recognizes the need for a ‘comprehensive and durable solution’ through the ‘safe, dignified, and voluntary return’ in accordance with international law.
In this regard, I would like to present some key considerations:
- Returns must be supported by reconciliation efforts, and the time frame must allow for this and other measures to ensure that return is sustainable. Central to this is the implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations;
- Returns should be to the ‘original place of residence’ or to a safe, secure place near to their destination of choice, as envisaged by the Arrangement. It should not be to camps, however temporary; experience shows that camps lead to prolonged segregation;
- The reference to freedom of movement in the arrangement is positive, but the qualifier ‘in conformity with existing laws and regulations’ which are currently extremely restrictive, is a serious limitation. Expanding freedom of movement is essential to achieving stated commitments on access to basic services and livelihoods.
- Eligibility criteria for return must be applied in the broadest possible manner. The current requirements (including documentary proof of residence) would be difficult for many refugees to meet;
- Finally, experience on voluntary repatriation movements over the decades, underscores the important role that the UN, through UNHCR, can play in all aspects of a return operation.
We encourage including UNHCR in the Joint Working Group aimed at overseeing all aspects of return.
We appreciate the role of neighbouring countries, particularly China, in constructively engaging both Bangladesh and Myanmar to facilitate the bilateral agreement. During his recent visit to Myanmar, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pointed out the importance of finding a long-term solution, including by addressing the chronic underdevelopment in Rakhine state. Strengthened regional cooperation with Myanmar will be essential. We welcome Myanmar’s engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for humanitarian assistance, which led to an initial delivery of 80 tonnes of relief material for Rakhine.
The recently established Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine aim to support cooperation between the Government and all sectors, including the UN, in the implementation of development projects. Meetings between the government, donors and the UN have started. In addition, the Implementation Committee for the Rakhine Advisory Commission has begun meeting and identified priority interventions in specific sectors.
These are welcome developments, but we again urge tangible action and implementation of these commitments. Plans alone are not sufficient. We hope Myanmar will draw upon the wealth of expertise the UN can offer.
As Kofi Annan highlighted, the complex challenges in Rakhine require civilian-military coordination. Council members have underlined the importance of effective partnership with the Myanmar authorities, especially the military. Close neighbors like China and Indonesia can help through their military-to-military engagement. We appreciate the recognition by these regional and other Member States for the role of the UN in helping Myanmar address areas beyond Rakhine issues including the peace process, to help advance the country’s democratic consolidation efforts. The 2020 national elections will stand as an important test in the consolidation of the nation’s democratic institutions.
The effort to achieve peace between the Government and various Ethnic Armed Organizations is a cornerstone of this transition. All eight signatory parties have shown a sustained commitment to upholding the October 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. Momentum in the peace process is slowing, however, with the majority of Ethnic Armed Organizations still not among the signatories.
Finally, I note that the General Assembly is expected to approve the Third Committee Resolution on Myanmar, requesting the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy. We want this initiative to strengthen our partnership with Myanmar, in close consultations with interested Member States in the region and beyond. We believe we have much to offer in working with Myanmar on a number of challenges the country faces, in full respect of Myanmar’s sovereignty.