Who represents Myanmar? UN faces credential pressure at meeting


Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), founded by the democratically elected politicians who were removed from office during last year’s military coup, is calling for official recognition this month at the 77th United Nations General Assembly.

“The United Nations must accept the NUG delegation at every meeting and session and through the other agencies,” Dr Tun-Aung Shwe, the NUG’s representative in Australia, told Al Jazeera.

“The international community must support the Government of National Unity, the true representative of the people of Myanmar. The NUG represents the Myanmar people. The military junta is not eligible to represent the Myanmar people at the United Nations.”

The NGG was formed by politicians from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) after army chief Min Aung Hlaing removed them from office in February 2021 and jailed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. As the military cracked down on opposition to his rule, the NGG organized into ministries and deepened alliances at home and abroad, but the UN accreditation, which would allow them to participate fully in the organization, continues to elude them. .

The United Nations announced in December 2021 that it had postponed a decision on Myanmar’s representation, a failure that human rights defenders say has hampered international response to the deteriorating situation in the country and risks legitimizing the coup regime.

“There have been serious inconsistencies in the handling of this issue by various UN bodies, with some allowing the military junta to represent Myanmar while most allowing no one to sit in Myanmar’s seat,” the Myanmar Accountability Project said in a statement. declaration.

“These institutional inconsistencies are denying the people of Myanmar a voice in UN bodies when they need it most, with violent repression and armed conflict in the country worsening every day, fueling a deeper humanitarian crisis.”

Myanmar people have continued to protest the army’s seizure of power and call for democracy to be restored [File: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP]

Credentials are decided by a nine-country committee of UN states, in which the United States, Russia and China are permanent members.

At last year’s 76th United Nations General Assembly, NUG-lined Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun — who has held the post since 2018 and was the target of an assassination plot in 2021 — remained in Myanmar’s seat but agreed not to. to speak at a high level.

Meanwhile, the military is eager to replace Kyaw Moe Tun with its own elected ambassador.

“The problem with the status quo at the UN is that there is divided and incomplete recognition within the UN,” Tyler Giannini, a professor at Harvard Law School, told Al Jazeera.

“There must be consistent representation based on the decision of the UN General Assembly, which should be the NGG, because that would be in accordance with the will of the people.”

Giannini said it was the UN’s responsibility to break the deadlock.

“The people of any UN member state have the right to have their desired UN representatives, and the military representatives do not represent the wishes of the people, while the NGG would,” he said.

Measures of legitimacy

Patrick Phongsathorn, a human rights lawyer specialist at Fortify Rights, which works on Myanmar, told Al Jazeera that UN recognition of the NGG was vital in establishing diplomatic ties and responding to the ongoing human rights violations taking place in Myanmar.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a civil society group that oversees the crackdown, 2,276 people have been killed and more than 15,000 have been arrested since the coup.

In July, the generals executed four political opponents, reviving the death penalty, which had not been used since the late 1980s, sparking outrage in many parts of the world.

Myanmar's white-gilded and empty chair at ASEAN's foreign ministers' meeting after being barred from the event.
Coup leaders and their ministers have been barred from key Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits amid frustration at their failure to implement a plan agreed in April 2021 to end the violence [File: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters]

“If the Credentials Commission accepted the NG’s claims as the legitimate government of Myanmar, it would encourage other UN member states to recognize the NG as the official government of Myanmar,” Phongsathorn said.

“[This] would enable the NGG to establish diplomatic relations with those countries [and] would have a knock-on effect on building a democratic movement in Myanmar.”

The NGG has told Al Jazeera that 10 of the 17 ministers continue to work in parts of Myanmar that are effectively outside the military’s control.

Other ministries operate outside the country – in Australia it has set up an official office in the national capital Canberra.

It is from these locations that the NGG continues to operate and build relationships with countries in Southeast Asia and around the world.

“The NGG has democratic legitimacy, which is also a very important part of state recognition and has also demonstrated its commitment to upholding international law,” Phongsathorn said.

The NG has also said it will appear before the International Court of Justice on behalf of Myanmar over allegations of genocide against the Rohingya in 2017, a move that Phongsathorn says the party says is committed to international law and its willingness to participate in the international community .

The military is currently acting for Myanmar at the ICJ, a reflection of the confusion.

“[Another] the most important factor in recognizing governments is that they control the territory they claim to represent. And the junta just can’t make that claim right now,” Phongsathorn said.

A recent report by the Special Advisory Council on Myanmar (SAC-M) shows that as a result of the resistance of armed ethnic groups and the People’s Defense Force, a network of armed civilian groups established by the NGG in 2021, it can be said that the military regime have stable control over 17 percent of Myanmar’s territory.

Min Aung Hlaing smiles broadly as he shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin
As Myanmar has become isolated on the global stage, the military has deepened its relationship with Russia, a major source of weapons and military equipment. [Valery Sharifulin/Sputnik via AFP]

Legal experts say that is not enough for the generals to be considered representatives of the Myanmar people.

“The National Unity Government and ethnic resistance organizations directly or indirectly control more than half of the country and have significant influence over another 25 percent of the country,” said Chris Sidoti of SAC-M.

“So whether you look at legal legitimacy or de facto control, the government of national unity has by far the best claim to be recognized as the government of Myanmar and to be the Myanmar partner for other states. And this is what should happen.”

‘Disgusting dysfunction’

Sidoti, a former member of the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar, also told Al Jazeera that the uncertainty over credentials was standing in the way of a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

The UN Security Council, where Russia is one of five veto countries, has failed to agree on a global arms embargo on Myanmar, and Russia remains a major supplier of weapons to the embattled generals.

Sidoti describes Russia’s support as “significant” for the coup leaders given their global isolation.

“Only the Security Council can impose a legally binding international sanctions system against weapons supplied to the military,” he said.

“It is an indictment of the Security Council for failing to fulfill its responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations. In fact, the UN has done nothing. Myanmar is yet another story of the dismal dysfunction of the United Nations system.”

Further criticism of the UN recently focused on Noeleen Heyzer, the special envoy of the Secretary-General of Myanmar, who was appointed last December and visited the Myanmar capital of Naypyidaw last month.

She was photographed shaking hands and laughing with Min Aung Hlaing, who was the army chief at the time of the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya.

Heyzer, who says she has had “extensive and regular consultations with Myanmar’s key stakeholders” since her appointment, targeting the NLD, NUG and ethnic armed groups, declined an interview request from Al Jazeera but clarified in a written statement the nature of her visit.

The meeting with Min Aung Hlaing and other senior generals was “to convey the grave concerns of the United Nations and propose concrete steps needed to immediately reduce the conflict and the suffering of the people,” she said.

“My visit was part of wider United Nations efforts to urgently support an effective and peaceful Myanmar-led political path to return to civilian rule based on the will and needs of the people, based on of my mandate as an impartial actor to work with all stakeholders in Myanmar, the region and worldwide, in accordance with United Nations principles.”

For observers like Patrick Phongsathorn of Fortify Rights, the visit was another sign of the UN’s failure in Myanmar.

“It was really a misstep and very little – if not – has been achieved through her trip to Naypyidaw,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The UN as an institution could do much more and the Secretary General needs to show much more leadership in Myanmar.”

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