The United Nations (UN), often regarded as the protectorate of human rights and upholder of international law, finds itself under significant scrutiny in a recent critique released by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M).
The consortium of independent international experts has sharply criticized the UN for its handling of the Myanmar crisis since the 2021 military coup, with particular emphasis on its controversial designation of the military junta as the “de facto” authorities.
The report emphasizes that despite urgent pleas from thousands of Myanmar’s citizens for assistance against the junta’s oppression, the UN’s response has been dishearteningly inadequate.
The aftermath of the coup saw escalating atrocities, resulting in two million displaced and up to 20 million in dire need of humanitarian aid. Yet, decisive UN intervention remains distressingly absent.
The UN’s acknowledgment of the junta as the “de facto” authorities, a term suggesting control if not legal legitimacy, is particularly concerning.
This designation provides the junta with an air of international acceptance, allowing for formal communications and agreements, despite widespread resistance and the junta’s evident inability to establish undisputed governance.
Such an approach diminishes the sacrifices of millions in Myanmar and could inadvertently bolster the junta’s misplaced belief in their own legitimacy.
The SAC-M report also brings to light the UN’s historical lapses concerning Myanmar.
Notably, the UN’s inadequate response to the military’s actions against the Rohingya in 2016 and 2017, even as its presence in the country was ramped up. The Rosenthal report had earlier exposed these shortcomings, highlighting a lack of cohesion within the UN’s approach.
The political canvas in Myanmar has been tumultuous since the 2021 coup, with the emergence of the National Unity Government (NUG) as Myanmar’s legitimate representative.
The nation has witnessed a swell of civil resistance, ranging from civil disobedience to large-scale demonstrations, which the junta has tried brutally to suppress.
Despite clear indications of the junta’s lack of legitimacy and control, UN intergovernmental forums have largely been limited to rhetoric rather than tangible action.
The United Nations Country Team (UNCT), in particular, has been flagged for prioritizing its presence over meaningful interventions in the country.
Their interactions with junta-controlled ministries, combined with a limited acknowledgment of the NUG, have exacerbated negative perceptions amongst Myanmar’s citizens.
Furthermore, the junta’s intentional obstruction of humanitarian relief, vital for the nation, remains woefully unaddressed under the UNCT’s current approach.
Leaked documents revealing collaborations between UN agencies and the junta worth millions add another layer of controversy.
The UN Secretariat’s overall handling of the Myanmar situation, led by the Secretary-General, Mr António Guterres, has also been lambasted in the report.
Mr Guterres’ public statements and delegated efforts, the report suggests, have been marked by misunderstandings and a glaring lack of strategy.
For example, he referred to the junta as “the de facto authorities”, a status the junta has craved but has been denied since the coup began.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) does emerge as a beacon of hope, consistently investigating and reporting on the evolving situation in Myanmar.
Conclusively, the SAC-M’s detailed critique paints a stark picture of a UN system perceived as “inactive, ineffective, and irresponsible.” As Myanmar grapples with its future, there’s an echoing call for a comprehensive UN strategy that truly champions the nation’s democratic aspirations.
Read the full report: “How the UN Is Failing Myanmar“
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