864 civil society organisations (CSOs) have signed a joint statement calling for the United Nations (UN) to withdraw the mandate of the UN Special Envoy, Noeleen Heyzer, following her recent trip to Myanmar when she met with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.
The statement was issued on22 August. Below is a copy of the statement:
We, the 864 undersigned organizations, call on the UN General Assembly to withdraw the mandate of the Special Envoy on Myanmar. We also call on the UN Secretary-General to show his serious commitment to resolving the devastating human rights and humanitarian crises in Myanmar by assuming a personal role on Myanmar and taking decisive action.
The first visit of the current UN Special Envoy (UNSE) to Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, which took place from 16 to 17 August 2022 was the latest evidence of the historical ineffectualness of the mandate over a decades-long approach that has continually failed. The UN must immediately end its business-as-usual approach towards Myanmar. The long history of the UN’s attempts at peace-brokering with Myanmar’s military through Special Envoys has never catalyzed into meaningful results, but has instead lent legitimacy to perpetrators of international atrocity crimes — and has permitted worsening human rights and humanitarian crises.
The current wait-and-see approach of the UNSE, and by extension the UN, towards the junta has not yielded results — as has been repeatedly proven for decades. On the contrary, these “visits” and “dialogues” have emboldened the military — and the current illegal junta — to continue to commit escalating atrocity crimes against the people. It also undermines the united struggle of the people of Myanmar, thereby violating the UN’s own ‘do no harm’ approach.
We call on the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and UN Member States to end the mandate of the UNSE at the upcoming session in September 2022. Additionally, the UNGA must formulate concrete actions which centered on accountability, and which reflect the will and demands of the people of Myanmar.
CSOs have previously rejected the current UNSE’s proposal of power-sharing settlements as a solution to the political, human rights and humanitarian crises inflicted on the whole country by the terrorist junta. We are dismayed that the UNSE failed to take into account key recommendations put forward by CSOs during their February and April 2022 meetings, which were reflective of Myanmar people’s aspirations for a genuine federal democracy free of the military.
During these meetings, CSOs also called for the UNSE’s mandate to be “transformed and updated to focus on accountability and transitional justice,” as its current formulation is vague and inadequate to address the present Myanmar crisis. The current UNSE’s mandate resulted from the 72nd session of the UNGA in 2017 to address the Rohingya crisis. Thus, it does not reflect the magnitude or complexity of the current crises. The UNSE has failed to acknowledge or act on this key recommendation, rendering the mandate ineffectual.
CSOs also emphasized their concerns that the UNSE’s proposed trips to Naypyidaw to meet with the junta’s leadership could be manipulated by the junta in its efforts to gain legitimacy from the international community. Such visits could give the appearance of recognition and acceptance by the UN and, by extension, the international community. We note that CSOs were not consulted prior to the UNSE’s recent trip.
As CSOs warned and expected, on 17 August the military junta showcased its meeting with the UNSE as an official meeting with the “current Myanmar government” with photos of the UNSE shaking hands with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing. The UN must now repair the considerable damage it incurred by allowing the UNSE to be exploited for junta propaganda.
We are also deeply disappointed to note the absence of a reference to the National Unity Government (NUG) – the legitimate government of Myanmar – in the UNSE’s statement after the meeting, despite pledging an inclusive process with all stakeholders to resolve the ongoing crisis. We are also alarmed by the timing of her meeting with the junta, which followed the extrajudicial executions of four political prisoners in July and the sentencing of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to six more years in prison merely two days before her visit. The UNSE’s visit not only suggests that the UN is prepared to let these crimes go unabated and unpunished, but that it will maintain its ‘wait-and-see’ approach, freeing the junta to continue its relentless terror campaign and atrocity crimes against the people of Myanmar.
The UNSE further failed to secure meetings with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other arbitrarily detained parliamentarians elected in the November 2020 general elections while in-country. At the same time, it is of grave concern that the UNSE has repeatedly failed to acknowledge the root cause of the current crisis: the military junta’s failed power grab and its horrific international crimes meted out in frustration since — acts that the UN itself has found to comprise of probable war crimes and crimes against humanity. We note that the failed coup attempt and the ongoing airstrikes and heavy military attacks against civilians, among other critical matters, were not mentioned in the UNSE’s statement. Given the UNSE’s engagement with CSOs, who provided updates on the ground situation and clear recommendations, these intentional omissions undermine the important work of other UN mandate holders including the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, each of whom has also referred to the NUG in their reporting.
We also note that the UNSE left out mention of the NUG in relation to humanitarian aid provision. We consider this intentional given that the humanitarian forum mentioned in the UNSE’s statement was proposed by the NUG together with some Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations (EROs). This exclusion was both unethical and an appeasement to the junta; furthermore, it breaches the humanitarian principle of impartiality.
The junta continues to weaponize humanitarian aid by blocking the delivery of humanitarian assistance and by attacking humanitarian actors. These acts amount to war crimes and violations of the Geneva Conventions. We again press that channeling humanitarian assistance through the junta will support their corrupt agenda, fuel the further weaponization of aid, and cause irreparable harm to the people of Myanmar. CSOs have urged the UNSE to push for effective aid delivery – taking a solidarity-based approach with the people – particularly through cross-border channels with local humanitarian groups. Such calls must be heeded.
The junta is a terrorist organization under Myanmar’s domestic law and by international definition. The UN must exercise its mandate provided by the UN Charter to protect the people of Myanmar from the junta’s escalating violence. It must also work directly with the NUG as the legitimate government, the National Unity Consultative Council, EROs and CSOs to meaningfully and immediately address and resolve the catastrophic crisis in Myanmar, while disengaging from the junta. As the people of Myanmar asked in protests staged during the UNSE’s visit: “How many dead bodies UN need to take action?”
We reiterate the call for justice and accountability. The military junta, responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, must be held criminally liable, not rewarded with recognition or engagement.
The UNGA must withdraw the mandate of the Special Envoy. In its place, the UN Secretary-General must take personal leadership on Myanmar for the sake of the people, and to repair the UN’s own reputation and standing. At the same time, the UN Security Council must refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or establish an ad hoc tribunal to secure accountability.