UN failed before Rohingya crackdown in Myanmar: Expert

The review covers the UN involvement in Myanmar since 2010. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 June 2019

UN failed before Rohingya crackdown in Myanmar: Expert

  • An expert said said the UN could conceivably have reconciled competing views on whether quiet diplomacy or outspoken advocacy against human rights abuses in Myanmar should have been used, but it didn't
  • The result was a “dysfunctional performance of the UN system”

UNITED NATIONS: An independent review of United Nations operations in the years before hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled a violent crackdown by Myanmar’s military concluded that the organization’s many bodies failed to act together, resulting in “systemic and structural failures.”
The 36-page review by Gert Rosenthal, Guatemala’s former foreign minister, released Monday said the UN could conceivably have reconciled competing views on whether quiet diplomacy or outspoken advocacy against human rights abuses in Myanmar should have been used — but it didn’t.
The result — as in Sri Lanka at the end of the civil war against Tamil separatists in 2009 — was a “dysfunctional performance of the UN system,” Rosenthal said.
“Without question serious errors were committed and opportunities were lost in the UN system following a fragmented strategy rather than a common plan of action,” he said, adding that the “systemic failure was further magnified by some bureaucratic and unseemly infighting.”
The long-simmering crisis exploded in August 2017 when Myanmar’s military launched what it called a clearance campaign in northern Rakhine State in response to an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group. The campaign forced more than 720,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh and led to accusations that security forces committed mass rapes, killings and burned thousands of homes.
Rosenthal said the key lesson is “to foster an environment encouraging different entities of the UN system to work together.”
On a more optimistic note, he said since UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took office at the start of 2017, “there appears to be renewed recognition of the crucial importance of improved coordination.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Guterres, who commissioned the report, has accepted all of its recommendations “and is committed to implementing them.”
“The secretary-general is very grateful to Mr. Rosenthal for producing a candid, forthright and very useful report,” he said.
The review covers the UN involvement in Myanmar since 2010, when the at the time military-fueled nation moved started opening up to the outside world, eventually leading to elections and moves toward a more open, market-oriented economy.
Rosenthal said “for all these positive tendencies with their ups and downs over time,” Myanmar also engaged in “long-festering discriminatory treatment against minorities” for decades, most especially the Rohingya.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long considered the Rohingya to be “Bengalis” from Bangladesh even though their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless, and they are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.
In his conclusions and recommendations, Rosenthal said Myanmar’s government is mainly responsible for the grave abuses against the Rohingya.
He said the UN system “has been relatively impotent to effectively work with the authorities of Myanmar to reverse the negative trends in the area of human rights and consolidate the positive trends in other areas.”
He also noted “increasing criticism regarding the lack of leadership displayed by Aung San Suu Kyi,” the government’s de facto leader, “as well as her unwillingness to take distance from the military.”
Although the UN’s systematic failures are not down to any single entity or any individuals, Rosenthal said, “clearly there is a shared responsibility on the part of all parties involved in not having been able to accompany the government’s political process with constructive actions, while at the same time conveying more forcefully the United Nations’ principled concerns regarding grave human rights violations.”
Rosenthal said the UN Security Council as the world body’s most powerful organization should also bear some responsibility because its divisions failed to provide support to the UN Secretariat “when such backing was and continues to be essential.”
The Secretariat “would have benefited enormously” from Security Council support for an impartial UN observer presence in Rakhine state “to deter the use of violence in general,” he said.
He said the UN, which has multiple ways to engage its 193 member states, could find ways “to criticize and prod governments that engage in serious violations of international law while at the same time cooperating with them in delivering humanitarian and development assistance.”
“This would be the highly desirable objective to address the obvious dysfunctional performance of the UN system observed in both Sri Lanka and Myanmar,” he said.
But Rosenthal said “recent experience, precisely in both countries, has gone in the opposite direction, with mindsets and specific actions” competing rather than complementing each other.
Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, said the United Nations failed to keep its promise of “never again” to mass atrocities after the wartime deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in Sri Lanka.
“If the UN leadership is determined to change its internal culture, it needs to hold UN officials most responsible for ignoring ethnic cleansing in Myanmar accountable for their inaction,” he said.

India puts 30,000 in lockdown after preacher dies of virus

A volunteer sprays disinfectant on a policeman at a street during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in Amritsar on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 30 March 2020

India puts 30,000 in lockdown after preacher dies of virus

  • Sikh leader ignored order to self-isolate after 16-day trip to Europe, authorities say

NEW DELHI: More than 30,000 people have been quarantined in 20 villages in the northern Indian state of Punjab after coming into contact with a Sikh religious leader who died after being infected by the coronavirus, officials said on Sunday.

Baldev Singh, 70, returned to India on March 7 after attending religious events during a 16-day trip to Italy and Germany.
After his return, he was asked to go into self-isolation, but reportedly defied the orders and is believed to have died on March 18.
Vinay Bublani, deputy commissioner of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar district, told Arab News on Sunday that there was no explanation for Singh’s refusal to self-isolate.“
What I understand is that he was asymptomatic and did not show any symptoms of infection,” Bublani said.
Some media reports suggest that Singh continued to attend religious functions despite developing symptoms associated with the coronavirus.
Between March 10-12, he attended the Halla Mohallaa, in Punjab’s Anantpur Saheb district, which draws tens of thousands of people, and also visited individual houses to recite religious texts and scriptures afterwards.
Health authorities in Punjab said that the state has almost 40 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 23 of the victims reportedly infected after coming in contact with Singh.
Elsewhere in India, authorities said the number of infections is nearing 1,000 with 25 deaths reported.
The government is concentrating on virus hotspots in the country, including Punjab, following the latest developments in the state.
After his death on March 18, 19 of Singh’s close relatives tested positive for the illness, with four others reportedly infected.
“We tested hundreds of people and, later on, decided to quarantine the entire area consisting of 20 villages and with a population of more than 30,000 people.
No one isallowed to come out of their village,” Bublani said.
However, he warned that self-quarantine is proving difficult to enforce. “People don’t take it seriously. They have been defiant. That’s why the lockdown has been imposed,” he added.


• Between March 10-12, Baldev Singh attended the Halla Mohallaa, which draws tens of thousands of people.

• Health authorities in Punjab said that the state has almost 40 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 23 of the victims reportedly infected after coming in contact with Singh.

Singh’s death and his unrestricted movement have alarmed the state government, which has asked police to take “strict legal action against those violating home quarantine orders.”
Political analyst Maneesh Chibber told Arab News that authorities face an uphill task.“
In Punjab, you have many socio-religious organizations and sects, and they are powerful. They have strong political connections and cannot be held accountable for their excesses,” he said.
The state government has made it mandatory for anyone arriving from overseas in the past month to report to health officials.
On Tuesday, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said that “an estimated 97,000 people have arrived in Punjab since early January, while more than 30,000 have been asked to self-quarantine.”
The government also launched an app named Cova to trace residents who had returned to Punjab but not registered their entry.
Apart from providing information on the disease, the app prompts users to inform authorities about their return from an overseas trip.“
We need to do our best to track all the suspected cases so that we can contain the spread of the virus,” Bublani said.
A senior state health official, who requested anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the media, told Arab News on Sunday that “thermal screening at airports is not enough to identify positive patients.”
The state health department is also trying to trace 144 people who returned from abroad but provided false addresses to airport authorities.