By Noeleen Heyzer*
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 27 2022 (IPS UN Bureau) – More than 13.2 million people are food insecure, about 40 percent of the population is living below the poverty line and 1.3 million are internally displaced. Military operations continue with disproportionate use of force including aerial bombings, burning of civilian structures, and the killing of civilians including children.
I condemn the indiscriminate airstrikes on a celebration in Kachin State that killed large numbers of civilians days ago. The People’s Defence Forces are also accused of targeting civilians.
The plight of the Rohingya people, along with other forcefully displaced communities, remains desperate, with many seeking refuge through dangerous land and sea journeys. The price of impunity is a grave reminder that accountability remains essential.
Since the release of the Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Myanmar, violence between the Arakan Army and the military in Rakhine has escalated to levels not seen since late 2020, with significant cross-border incursions, endangering all communities, harming conditions for durable return, and prolonging the burden on Bangladesh as host of about 1 million Rohingya refugees.
As the Myanmar crisis deepens, I continue to promote a coordinated international strategy, in line with my mandate, engaging all stakeholders for an inclusive Myanmar-led process to return to the democratic transition.
My first visit to Myanmar as Special Envoy in August to meet the military’s Commander-in-Chief was part of broader efforts by the UN to urgently support a return to civilian rule based on the will and needs of the people.
I made six requests during the visit: ending aerial bombing and burning of civilian infrastructure; delivery of humanitarian assistance without discrimination; the release of all children and political prisoners; a moratorium on executions; the well-being of and engagement with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
I also highlighted Myanmar’s responsibility for creating conducive conditions for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees. Soon after, I visited Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar on the five-year anniversary of the Rohingya’s mass displacement, where I expressed the United Nations’ appreciation for Bangladesh’s generosity and heeded Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s statements that the current situation is unsustainable.
A highlight of the visit was my discussions with women and youth in the refugee camps. They made it clear that they need to be engaged directly in discussions and decisions about their future.
Their rights and protection, in particular their citizenship, freedom of movement and security, must be guaranteed, guided by the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. Going forward, I will continue to strengthen co-operation with ASEAN and engagement with all stakeholders.
While there is little room for the de-escalation of violence or for “talks about talks” in the present zero-sum situation, there are some concrete ways to reducing the suffering of the people. Recognizing that many more people will be forced to flee the violence,
I will continue to urge ASEAN to develop a regional protection framework for refugees and forcefully displaced persons. The recent forced return of Myanmar nationals, some of whom were detained on arrival, underlines the urgency of a coordinated ASEAN response to address shared regional challenges caused by the conflict.
Education and skills development are powerful tools to prepare Rohingya refugees for their return to Myanmar, which I continue to advocate, working closely with leaders of ASEAN and neighbouring countries as well as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Key Ethnic Armed Organizations and the National Unity Government have together appealed for me to convene an Inclusive Forum for engagement to facilitate protection and humanitarian assistance to ALL people in need, in observance of International Humanitarian Law.
I have also initiated a women, peace and security (WPS) platform on Myanmar with the Foreign Minister of Indonesia to amplify the needs of women affected by the conflict, and their leadership as agents of change.
To conclude, there is a new political reality in Myanmar: a people demanding change, no longer willing to accept military rule. I will continue to appeal to all governments and other key stakeholders to listen to the people and be guided by their will to prevent deeper catastrophe in the heart of Asia.
*Noeleen Heyzer, (Singapore, 1948) Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar, in her address to the United Nations General Assembly’s Third Committee 25 October 2022
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Cover image: Daniel Stuben.