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West to push for another UN resolution (click to view article)

The international community appears almost certain to adopt a human rights resolution against Myanmar at the United Nations General Assembly, which opens this week in New York, despite government expectations that the resolution would be dropped this year for the first time in two decades.

Several sources told The Myanmar Times that a new resolution is likely because the international community believes the government has not taken sufficient action to address key issues in last year’s resolution, particularly steps towards reconciliation in Rakhine State and increased cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Sources have also confirmed that the United States in recent weeks sent a démarche to the European Union, the main sponsor of last year’s resolution, urging the EU to begin drafting a new resolution. Neither the US nor EU embassies in Yangon responded to a request for confirmation that the démarche had been sent by deadline.

In Rakhine State an estimated 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, remain displaced as a result of violence last year, while three separate clashes between security officials and Rohingya Muslims in July and August left several people dead.

Elsewhere in Myanmar relations between Buddhists and Muslims are also strained, with violence spreading since last year’s resolution from Rakhine State to Meiktila in Mandalay Region, Okkan in Yangon Region, Lashio in Shan State and Kanbalu in Sagaing Region.

Brianna Oliver, a spokesperson for the US Campaign for Burma, said the outbreaks of violence had dispelled any notion that a resolution would not be put forward at this year’s General Assembly, which is scheduled to open on September 17, with a resolution likely to be finalised by November.

“The serious human rights abuses committed by security forces, anti-Muslim violence, lack of justice and accountability, breakdown of ceasefires, and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya have led countries that normally support a resolution on Burma to continue their support,” Ms Oliver said.

Ms Oliver said the continued violence has even prompted member countries of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to consider supporting this year’s resolution.

An OIC spokesperson said the group would comment on how its members planned to approach the Myanmar resolution at the General Assembly but did not respond to questions submitted to its offices at the UN in New York or Geneva. Multiple phone calls to the group’s headquarters in Saudi Arabia were not returned.

The resolution does not hinge on concerns over anti-Muslim violence alone, however. It also “urges the government to intensify its cooperation with [OHCHR] with a view to continuing and consolidating human rights reform in Myanmar”.

This would include the establishment of an OHCHR representative office in Myanmar – another area where critics say President U Thein Sein’s government has failed to deliver.

Matilda Bogner, regional representative for OHCHR’s Southeast Asia office, said that the agency is in discussions with the government about opening a representative office but did not provide any further details.

Ms Bogner said having an OHCHR office within Myanmar would “provide more systematic and focused support to the government in addressing human rights challenges”.

Given these concerns, and the continuing conflict in Kachin State, which has also displaced tens of thousands, several observers said a resolution is almost certain.

“The motivation to pass another resolution remains,” said Rachel Calvert, a senior consultant on economics and country risk at IHS consultancy in Singapore.

The UN General Assembly has adopted resolutions against Myanmar over its human rights record every year since 1992. Last year’s resolution was formally adopted by the General Assembly on December 24, with the European Union acting as the main sponsor. The Myanmar government assisted in the writing of the resolution’s text, in the apparent belief that doing so would persuade the EU to not table a resolution in 2013.

Despite the input from Myanmar, the country’s delegation at the UN still criticised some language in the resolution as “sweeping” and objected to the use of the word “Rohingya” before ultimately allowing it to be used.

A new resolution will not be welcomed by the government, which believes it has done enough on human rights to justify an end to the annual criticism in the General Assembly. However, it will also be aware that the international community is not satisfied with the progress made to date, said Trevor Wilson, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra.

“Myanmar governments have always defended themselves against the criticisms contained in these resolutions, and the current government will be no different,” said Mr Wilson, who is also a former Australian ambassador to Myanmar. “But the Thein Sein government has been told very directly in recent weeks how seriously these ongoing problems are regarded by countries such as the UK, France and Australia.”

Government spokesperson U Ye Htut did not respond to requests for comment.

Ms Calvert said she believed that the government wants the focus on Myanmar to shift to development.

“I think the Myanmar government would very much like to move the focus of the dialogue on Myanmar at the UN to development rather than human rights, looking at other issues on their agreed agenda with the UN, like the census and the Global Compact on CSR,” said Ms Calvert.

Another resolution could give further momentum to the view in Nay Pyi Taw that the UN’s reporting on human rights in Myanmar is biased and the UN is unable to properly assess the situation because of its perceived foreignness.

“UN representatives have come to Myanmar several times but they couldn’t understand the real situation,” said U Khine Maung Yi, a Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Ahlone.

He said the lack of understanding of Myanmar language and the national “temperament”, as well as the lack of cooperation from “locals”, had contributed to skewed reports on human rights conditions.

“They can’t know the real situation if they aren’t able to reach all the necessary places and meet the people they should meet.”

But Myanmar advocacy groups say that the UN General Assembly resolutions remain an important tool for pushing for more reform.

“The resolution is one of the remaining points of leverage available to the international community as regards to Myanmar,” said Daw Khin Ohmar from Burma Partnership, a network of organisations advocating for improved human rights and democracy in Myanmar.

Not adopting a resolution this year would “send a signal to the government that it has reached an acceptable level of human rights violations and that it has a carte blanche from the international community to leave off making further improvements”.

“[I]t is more crucial than ever to maintain these resolutions,” Daw Khin Ohmar said. “They serve to remind the government of Myanmar that they must prioritise the human rights agenda if they are genuinely pursuing democratic reform.”