External Affairs

UNSC Watch: On Myanmar, Security Council Gives the Driver’s Seat to ASEAN

Since the February 1 coup, the Security Council has met five times in varied formats to discuss Myanmar.

New Delhi: Three months after Myanmar’s generals conducted their coup, the United Nations Security Council has willingly taken a back seat as it waits for ASEAN, the regional body, to appoint a special envoy and begin the first serious engagement with the Junta.

During the last week of April, the Council met for a briefing on the situation in the disputed Abyei region and Syria. It held an open debate on attacks on critical civilian infrastructure and adopted a related resolution.

On the first day as UNSC president in April, Vietnam released the “press elements” for the closed consultations on Myanmar following the killing of over 100 civilians on March 27.

It ended its month-long presidency with another closed-door meeting on Myanmar, followed by yet another release of the “press elements”, the content of which indicated that the Security Council put ASEAN firmly in the driver’s seat for engagement with the military junta.

Since the February 1 coup, the Security Council has met five times in varied formats to discuss Myanmar. The latest iteration was a “private meeting” to accommodate a briefing from the ASEAN chair, Brunei Darussalam, which is not a direct stakeholder in Myanmar.

In line with the rules of procedure, Vietnam issued the press elements of the private meeting on April 30, which underlined that the Security Council “encouraged continued ASEAN leadership”.

On April 24, ASEAN leaders meet in Jakarta, where they discussed Myanmar despite the official policy of non-interference in internal affairs of member states. The meeting was also attended by Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing, the mastermind of the February 1 coup in which all elected political leaders were detained and which triggered a series of streets protests across the country.

The Security Council endorsed the ASEAN chair’s statement that included a “five-point consensus” on the next steps to find a solution for Myanmar. The consensus was reached despite scepticism that the ASEAN member states were too deeply divided on whether to get involved with the crisis in Myanmar.

“They (UNSC) underlined the importance of the ASEAN call for an immediate cessation of violence and called for the implementation of five-point consensus without delay as the first step towards a peaceful and sustainable solution, through constructive dialogue,” said Vietnam’s deputy permanent representative to UN, Nguyen Phuong Tra, according to a readout of the meeting.

FILE PHOTO: People hold placards as they attend a protest against Myanmar’s military coup in Launglon, Myanmar April 23, 2021 in this picture obtained by Reuters. Photo: DAWEI WATCH via Reuters

She noted that the UNSC also “wished for an early visit by the ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar”.

The ‘five-point consensus’ had agreed that a “special envoy of the ASEAN Chair shall facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the Secretary General of ASEAN.” It had also decided that the ASEAN “special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned”.

However, ASEAN is still to announce the appointment of a special envoy, which UNSC member states hoped would be expedited so that an early visit to Myanmar could be scheduled. Myanmar has also stepped back a bit, stating that it will consider the proposals from ASEAN “after stabilising the country”.

The ASEAN statement had called for an immediate cessation of violence and constructive dialogue among all parties, which was also mirrored at the UNSC private meeting.

However, the Security Council went beyond the ASEAN document by calling for the release of the political leaders and support for the “democratic transition”.

The UNSC has clearly delegated the regional body to take the initiative for engagement with the military junta. Council members will wait for ASEAN to take the process forward first before considering any other action.

Incidentally, the Council had issued a presidential statement, following an open debate on April 19 on cooperation between UN and regional bodies. The statement urged regional bodies “to make full use their comparative advantage of proximity and existing mechanisms” as part of “efforts to prevent and peacefully resolve conflicts”.

Yet, there were also members within the Council who pushed for the UNSC to be more assertive on Myanmar. “Yet situation in Myanmar remains worrisome. UNSC is the only entity in the world, that has legitimate power to protect nations at risk and must explore every tool in its toolbox,” tweeted Estonia’s permanent mission to UN.

At Friday’s private meeting, India welcomed the ASEAN initiative and expressed support to the ‘five point consensus’, in line with its earlier public statement.

Asserting that India’s overall stand has been consistent, India’s UN envoy, T.S. Tirumurti tweeted that India will strengthen the ASEAN initiative. He also stated that “UNSC and UN should support their (ASEAN) efforts”. He added that India has continued to insist on an end to violence and release of detained leaders.

Meanwhile, the Council also called on the UN secretary general’s special envoy Christine S. Burgener to work with ASEAN. “They encourage complementarities of her works to the work of ASEAN,” said the press note released by Vietnam.

Burgener had visited Jakarta to attend the ASEAN leaders’ summit, where she met with the Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on the sidelines. The UN special envoy has been unable to visit Myanmar since the beginning of the crisis as the military has refused permission. In her briefing last Friday, Burgener did not go into details of her talks with the Myanmar military commander, neither did any UNSC member ask.

Unpaid dues to UN

Four months into 2021, two thirds of the 15-member Council have paid their 2021 contributions to the United Nations. This is more than 51% (98 states) of the entire United Nations membership.

United States is the largest and the only permanent member to not submit its assessments for 2021, worth $698 million. The other Council members who have not paid their dues are Mexico, Niger and St Vincent and Grenadines.

India had submitted its assessed contribution of $24.12 million in January, ahead of the deadline in February.

 This week in UNSC

China takes over the rotating UNSC presidency for May. After adoption of the monthly provision programme of work, this week is likely to see meetings on Bosnia and Herzegovina and Syria chemical weapons.

According to Security Council Report, China’s signature event will a open briefing on multilateralism and “UN-centred international system”. The Chinese State Councillor and foreign minister, Wang Yi, is likely to preside over the meeting.