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.


South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

Updated 10 min 50 sec ago

South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

  • South Korea will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct

SEOUL: South Korea’s military said on Tuesday it plans to expand the deployment of an anti-piracy unit now operating off the coast of Africa to the area around the Strait of Hormuz, after the United States pressed for help in guarding oil tankers.
Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran last year prompted US officials to call for allies to join a planned maritime security mission.
While South Korea, a key US ally, will deploy its forces to the area, including the Gulf, it will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct, the defense ministry said.
“The South Korean government decided to temporarily expand the deployment of the Cheonghae military unit,” a ministry official told reporters, adding that the step would ensure the safety of citizens and free navigation of South Korean vessels.
The decision to divert the navy unit already operating southwest of Arabia is a political compromise that will not require fresh authorization by parliament ahead of an election in April.
The Cheonghae unit will continue with its mission while it cooperates with the coalition, the ministry said, adding that the United States had been briefed on the decision, which was also explained to the Iranians separately.
The United States welcomes and appreciates South Korea’s decision to expand the mission of its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz, William Coleman, spokesman for the US Embassy in Seoul, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“This decision is a demonstration of the strength of the US-ROK alliance and our commitment to cooperate on global security concerns.”
The Iranian embassy in Seoul had no comment on the matter.
The Strait of Hormuz is a busy passageway into the Gulf, with vessels sailing through it approximately 900 times a year for South Korea, which gets more than 70% of its oil from the Middle East, the defense ministry says.
Sending troops to the area has been a politically sensitive issue in South Korea ahead of the election.
A survey by pollster Realmeter last week showed 48.4% of South Koreans were opposed to dispatching soldiers to the Strait, while 40.3% supported the idea.
Tuesday’s move was broadly supported by lawmakers although some said it could risk Iran ties and the safety of South Koreans in the region. A number of progressive activist groups issued a statement criticizing the decision and said they will stage a protest in front of the president’s office on Wednesday.
The Cheonghae unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, working to tackle piracy in partnership with African countries as well as the United States and the European Union.
The 302-strong unit operates a 4,500-ton destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats, South Korea’s 2018 defense white paper showed.
Among its operations were the rescue of a South Korean ship and its crew in 2011, shooting eight suspected pirates and capturing five others in the incident.
The South Korean troops have also evacuated South Korean citizens from Libya and Yemen, and as of November 2018 had escorted around 18,750 South Korean and international vessels.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer and one of Iran’s major oil customers, stopped importing Iranian crude from May after waivers of US sanctions ended at the start of that month.