UNSC Watch: New President; US Puts Myanmar Front and Centre at Council 

At the closed meeting on Friday, there was an impassioned appeal from the UN special envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, for the Council to take a more robust step against the military leaders.

New Delhi: The first week of March was about the new president of the United Nations Security Council setting the agenda and delineating priorities, with the United States pushing for substantive action against Myanmar.

The new US permanent representative to the UN, Linda Thomas-Garfield had to hit the ground running as the start of her tenure as top US diplomat in New York coincided with the presidency of the Council. 

The week began with agreement on the monthly programme of work and ended with the critical meeting on Myanmar.

Last month, the Council had issued a press statement that expressed “deep concern” at the military takeover, the declaration of a state of emergency and arrests of leaders in Myanmar from February 1. 

Since then, more than 50 protesters have been killed with security forces using live bullets to quell the countrywide rallies against the Tatmadaw. 

At the closed meeting on Friday, there was an impassioned appeal from the UN special envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, for the Council to take a more robust step against the military leaders who had refused to recognise the results of the November 8 general elections which swept back National League for Democracy (NLD) to power.

The hope they have placed in the United Nations and its membership is waning and I have heard directly the desperate pleas – from mothers, students and the elderly,” Burgener, a Swiss diplomat, told the 15 members of the Council.

It is learnt that member states largely reiterated their public positions on Myanmar.

Demonstrators are seen behind makeshift barricades during a protest in Yangon, Myanmar, March 4, 2021. Photo: Reuters

According to sources, as the penholder on Myanmar, the UK circulated a zero-draft text on Friday with stronger language that will be now negotiated over the next few days.

After the closed meeting, UK Permanent Representative to UN, Barbara Woodward, told reporters that there was an ongoing discussion with council members “about a council product”. She added that the talks were to find a common position. “But we think it is very important that the council is able to speak with one voice, that we can call for an end to violence, the release of those arbitrarily detained and a return to democracy”.

The United States, the UK and the EU countries have already placed sanctions against the top military leaders, but it is doubtful that United Nations Security Council will go down that route – with China and Russia ready to wield a veto.

While both China and Russia had supported the UNSC press statement, both asserted at the General Assembly meeting on February 26 that the February 1 developments and its aftermath were an internal matter for Myanmar.

On Friday, Chinese envoy Zhang Jun told other Council members that any steps taken by the international community “should be conducive for the parties in Myanmar to bridge differences and resolve problems, and avoid escalating tensions or further complicating the situation”.

India’s statement at the closed-door meeting has not been made public, but it was on similar lines as previous ones.

India’s statement at the UNGA had urged that “restoring democratic order should be the priority of all stakeholders in Myanmar”. “We believe that the rule of law and democratic process must be upheld, those detained be released and that calm prevails. We call on the Myanmar leadership to work together to resolve their differences in a peaceful and constructive manner,” India’s envoy to UN, T.S. Tirumurti, said on February 26.

Traditionally averse to country-specific sanctions, India has already conveyed to partners that punitive actions would not help bring back Myanmar onto the right track.

A day earlier, the US had convened a private meeting of the Council on the situation in Tigray, where the conflict between the Ethiopian national army and Tigray regional entities had led to a worsening humanitarian crisis.

According to AFP, an effort to get the Council to present a united front on Tigray through a statement has proved futile. The news agency reported that China, with Russia’s backing, had called for removing the phrase “violence in Tigray” in the draft statement. This was opposed by Western countries on the Council, including Ireland, which sponsored the document, the report stated.

Ethiopians who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region prepare to cross the Setit River on the Sudan-Ethiopia border in Hamdait village in eastern Kassala state, Sudan November 14, 2020. Photo: Reuters/El Tayeb Siddig/File Photo

Besides, there was also a closed and open combination meeting of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and on Syria’s chemical weapons. The Council is currently considering a resolution to extend the mandate of UNMISS, in which India is one of the largest troop contributors.

At the meeting on Syria’s chemical weapon on March 4, UN’s High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, said that even after eight years, the declaration by the Arab state of destruction of its arsenal “cannot be considered accurate and complete”.

India’s position, as delivered by deputy permanent representative R. Ravindra, asserted that “politicisation of the issue will result in parties taking extreme positions jeopardising ongoing efforts towards resolution”. This is primarily aligned with the Russian stance that the West has politicised the entire process, as well as, the UN’s chemical weapons watchdog.

This week in UNSC

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Ireland has convened a virtual ‘Arria-formula’ meeting on the participation of women in UN-led peace processes. In total, it has been co-sponsored by 12 out of the 15 members of the Council, leaving aside India, Russia and China. India has taken part in these meetings – which were held outside the UNSC chambers in pre-COVID-19 times – but has not been an enthusiastic promoter of this format.

US’s signature event for its March presidency will be a high-level open debate on conflict and food security on February 11. The Council will also get a briefing on the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) and from the Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde as the chairperson-in-office for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

This is a weekly column that tracks the UNSC during India’s current term as a non-permanent member. Previous columns can be found here.