TANZANIA – Widespread popular resistance to brutal repression by Myanmar’s military shows no sign of abating across much of the country, and with both sides intent on winning by force “there is no prospect for a negotiated settlement,” the U.N. special envoy to the conflict-wracked nation said Thursday.
In a grim assessment, Noeleen Heyzer told the 193-member U.N. General Assembly that the impact of the military’s February 2021 takeover of the country has been “devastating,” with violence continuing “at an alarming scale.”
She pointed to the military’s intensified use of force since its extension of the state of emergency on Feb. 1, including bombings, burning of civilian infrastructure“and other grave human rights violations to maintain its grip on power.” She said the regime’s “four cuts” strategy – blocking access to food, funds, information and recruits – also continues to target civilians as collective punishment.
Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule, but the generals then loosened their grip and in 2015 Aung San Suu Kyi rose to lead an elected civilian government. Following the military's ouster of the government two years ago, the junta moved to violently suppress public opposition to the takeover. Some experts now consider the situation in Myanmar to be a civil war in which the army has conducted major offensives against widespread armed resistance.
Heyzer said the generation that benefited from the country’s opening up after 2015, especially young people, “is now disillusioned, facing chronic hardship and many feeling they have no choice but to take up arms to fight military rule.”
She said heavy fighting has spread to new areas, putting more lives at risk and complicating operations to deliver humanitarian assistance. She said 17.6 million people now require assistance.
Heyzer said she and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have made clear that with people unable to “freely exercise their political rights without fear or intimidation,” elections called by the military for later this year only risk exacerbating the violence.
“There is no public trust in the regime, whose interest is seen as consolidating its control by making a transition from emergency rule to a longer-term military-backed government,” she said.
Heyzer said it’s critical that Myanmar’s future is decided by its people through a Myanmar-led process reflecting all voices, and she stressed that “sustainable solutions for the Rohingya people must be built into the design of a peaceful, inclusive and democratic Myanmar.”
More than 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar over several decades, including about 740,000 who crossed the border starting in August 2017 when the Myanmar military launched a brutal crackdown. International courts are considering whether that crackdown was genocide.
Heyzer thanked Bangladesh and said she heeded its message that the current situation is not sustainable, But she told the assembly that the return of the Rohingya “cannot be the mere act of closing camps or moving people” but must ensure durable solutions for their safety and well-being.
She said the Rohingya made clear during her visit last year that they want to be included in decisions on their future, and their current exclusion “has entrenched their marginalization.” She appealed for $125 million to avoid a cut in rations to the Rohingya refugees this month.
Heyzer and Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, whose country chairs the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, briefed the U.N. Security Council on Monday behind closed doors.
The U.N. envoy said she discussed with Marsudi “the urgency of concrete progress” on ASEAN’s five-point consensus on restoring peace in Myanmar adopted in April 2021. Myanmar agreed to the steps but has not implemented them.
The consensus calls for stopping violence, constructive dialogue with all parties, appointment of an ASEAN special envoy as mediator, humanitarian aid and the mediator’s visit to Myanmar including a meeting with now imprisoned leader Suu Kyi.
Heyzer said she and the Indonesian minister also discussed the possibility of a regional framework to protect the Rohingya and all other refugees from Myanmar.
With no prospects now for a negotiated settlement, the U.N. envoy was asked by reporters afterward what the next step is diplomatically.
"We cannot give up," she said, stressing that her engagement with all parties will continue in order to understand their bottom line and red lines as well as with countries that have leverage on the different players.
"At the end of the day, what we want is a movement towards a more just and a more democratic union of Myanmar for all," Heyzer said.