MYANMAR’S UN LEGITIMACY COMPETITION: The jury is still out

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On June 18, the international community conveyed disapproval of the Myanmar’s military human rights violations condemning its military coup from the civilian government and its months-long crackdown on the civilian protesters against its rule.

United Nations General Assembly UNGA meeting
Photo/Cia Pak – United Nations General Assembly UNGA meeting

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution adopted by a vote of 119-1, with Belarus the only country voting against and 36 abstentions, member states called for an end to the violence, respect the will of the people as expressed in the November 2020 election, a return back to democratization process, release of political prisoners and revocation of the state emergency imposed since the military coup of February 1.

The 47th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is scheduled from 21 June 2021 to 9 July 2021, will be held without Myanmar, due to the contest of the junta’s State Administration Council (SAC) and the rival National Unity Government (NUG) led by National League for Democracy (NLD) elected MPs and some ethnic and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) individuals.

The NUG functions as executive branch, while the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw or Parliament (CRPH) is the legislative branch of the rival, parallel government of the junta.

It is a blow to the military-coup junta as it is trying to gain legitimacy in the UN and internationally in general, but it may be seen as a plus point for NUG even it was not chosen to represent the country, if blocking and shaming of the junta could be considered as a positive result.

To date, Myanmar representative participation were rejected in 74th World Health Organization (WHO),109th International Labor Conference (ILC), and 47th United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), to which both the SAC and NUG were competing to represent the country.

“On May 26, for instance, the World Health Assembly (WHA) refused to seat the junta’s delegate after the NUG submitted a competing credential request. While not a total victory, having the Myanmar chair empty is preferable to having the junta represent the country. The WHA’s decision also kicked the issue back to the General Assembly, highlighting the stakes for keeping the New York mission in the NUG’s hands,” writes Ambassador Kelley Currie in a piece titled “Beyond the Coup: Can the United Nations Escape Its History in Myanmar?” in Just Security .

“Delegates adopted an emergency resolution on Myanmar, which called for the restoration of democracy, the reestablishment of civilian rule, the end to arbitrary detentions and violations of human rights, and the restoration of fundamental principles and rights at work. It called on the ILO Governing Body to monitor the situation in Myanmar and follow up on the implementation of the resolution,” at the end of the June segment of the 109th International Labour Conference, in its press release of June 19.

“A Credentials Committee is appointed at the beginning of each regular session of the General Assembly. It consists of nine members, who are appointed by the General Assembly on the proposal of the President. The Committee reports to the Assembly on the credentials of representatives,” according to UN website.

“Any representative to whose admission a Member has made objection shall be seated provisionally with the same rights as other representatives until the Credentials Committee has reported and the General Assembly has given its decision,” according to the Rule 29.

The 75th UNGA UN Credentials Committee member countries are Cameroon, China, Iceland, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation, Trinidad and Tobago, United Republic of Tanzania, and United States of America. In September this year the new UN Credentials Committee member countries will be chosen according to the procedure.

UN Myanmar Ambassador sided with parallel government

On February 26 Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations Kyaw Moe Tun openly condemned the military coup and endorsed his loyalty to the elected government of NLD, which won the November election with a landslide. This not only stunned the audience but also open up a rare defense opportunity against the military coup within the UN system.

ENTK THE INTERVIEW KYAW MOE 0318 1
Photo Credit France 224- ENTK THE INTERVIEW KYAW MOE 0318 1

“When Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations Kyaw Moe Tun took the floor of the General Assembly on Feb. 26 to condemn the weeks-old military coup and announce his loyalty to the elected government, he not only shocked all those tuning in who expected a pro forma defense of the Tatmadaw’s power grab and denunciation of U.N. interference. He also provided Myanmar’s democratic movement a potentially powerful new tool, both to help secure their legitimacy, and to shift the historic dynamics of U.N. failure in Myanmar,” writes Ambassador Kelley Currie.

She added: “For the first time, those facing off against a military junta have a Burmese ambassador in New York who has declared his loyalty to the democratic movement and is empowered to work with the entire U.N. system, including and especially on human rights issues. Practically speaking, control over the U.N. seat in New York can be a beachhead for the NUG’s broader efforts towards international recognition even as the struggle on the ground continues and the democratic leadership builds out its own institutions. Because many other governments will recognize whatever authorities are recognized by the U.N., controlling the General Assembly seat is critical.”

Rohingya issue as anti-racism posturing

The NUG shortcomings on harboring racism has been pointed out internationally for so long which later was echoed by local activists and gradually gained acceptance, even if grudgingly.

NUG
NUG

The majority of NUG functionaries who are members of the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government party was complicit of the Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh in 2017. And as such, it is hard to give the NUG the benefit of doubt regarding this issue of ethnic cleansing and  genocide intent of the Rohingya.

Besides, memories are fresh when “the office of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi ran interference for the military, dismissing claims of the rape of Rohingya women as “fake,” asserting that the Rohingya were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and blaming “terrorists” for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” around the issue. In late 2019, Aung San Suu Kyi even traveled to The Hague to defend her government against claims of genocide,” writes Sebastian Strangio in The Diplomat very recently.

He added that since the NUG formation in April it has been trying to gain foreign recognition but was overshadowed by this sordid legacy, so much so that during a hearing of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee last month, U.S. Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) stated that he would block any recognition of the NUG until it appoints a Rohingya representative to its shadow cabinet.

“The new National Unity Government does not include any Rohingya,” he tweeted after the hearing. “We cannot support NUG until that is changed.”

Thus the NUG recent move to reinstate Rohingya their deserved citizenship guarantee, together with the abolition of the 1982 citizenship law could be seen as moves designed to assuage foreign doubts about its democratic credentials,  lobby for international support and formal recognition.

Perspectives

Using UN permanent representative as a beachhead to lobby the various UN agencies and to convince the UN Credentials Committee as suggested by Ambassador Currie is the way to go for the NUG.

In this respect the NUG altering its Rohingya stance drastically to fit into the international mode of thinking is the case in point, which it now has followed suit accordingly.

While its legitimacy credential may be acceptable from the point of de jure, given that the NLD won the November election with landslide and its CRPH, which is designated as the legislative branch, the actual territorial ownership and governance is still lacking. Thus, de facto authority may fall short in a practical sense. But it can be argued that the people at large are for the NUG and have been showing political defiance against the junta rule by Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) and active local armed resistance formation and actually also fighting with the junta under the banner of People’s Defense Force (PDF), which is the idea and creation of the NUG.

One thing that the NUG could do is to build alliance with the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) and formed federal union army as planned from the outset. Because by doing so the EAOs’ liberated territories will be seen as NUG having territorial and administrative authority in a true sense and thus also may earn the de jure legitimacy. But such a scenario is still not realizable for the time being as only Chin National Front (CNF) , with about 200 troop strength, has joined the NUG so far and the rest  heavy weight EAOs, which counted in tens of thousands are still not committed yet for various reasons.

However, generally most EAOs gave moral support and are sympathetic to the people’s uprising and CDM, with the exception of Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) or Mongla and United Wa State Army (UWSA) which haven’t made any public statement on it. The actively combating  EAOs are Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin State and northern Shan State, Karen National Union (KNU) in Karen State against the junta, and to a lesser extent the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) in Kayah or Karenni State, which vowed to protect the revolting Karenni people, including the Three Brotherhood Alliance of Arakan Army (AA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) or Kokang clashing quite frequently with the junta troops in northern Shan State.

The Chinland Defense Force (CDF) clashed frequently with the junta troops in Chin State. So do the PDF in Sagaing, Manadaly and Magwe regions.

In short, the NUG is trying everything from lobbying international players, altering its political positions to be in line with international norms, building up PDF forces with the help of EAOs, to  cooperation with the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) to take action on human rights facet against the junta.

Nobody knows for sure if its efforts will be enough to woo the UN Credentials Committee and UNGA to lend legitimacy in UN arena. But it can be sure that the junta will also try to protect its de facto hold on power by coming down hard on the CDM crowd and multitude of local resistance groups domestically and counting on the help and backing of China, Russia and some ASEAN member countries internationally.

The recent UNGA resolution clearly is against the junta’s military coup and for reinstating the elected government. This may well be the first time that the UN can show its teeth and intervening power,  turning away from the traditional acceptance of coup regimes within the mold of de facto  hold on power without question. But we are in uncharted waters as it could also turned out that each UN member country decides for itself and made the choice. If it is so, Burma may become some sort of Kosovo-like country with 119 countries backing the NUG and the rest abstaining, rejecting or even choosing the SAC. But unlike Kosovo, which is rejected UN membership because of China and Russia veto, Burma or Myanmar as a country is already a UN member state, so this may become problematic to shut the doors on it on many of the UN related activities in the long run.

However, aside from this a question remains whether the simple majority vote of UNGA may settle the dispute by choosing one of the contenders or each country will decides for itself.

For now, the jury is still out on the question of legitimate representation between the SAC and the NUG. Subsequently, the upcoming UNGA in September has to tackle the issue, one way or the other.

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