Millennium Post

UN fails Myanmar

UN fails Myanmar
Even with 19 agencies in Myanmar and several offices with plenty of staff in the Rakhine state, the United Nations has virtually failed to stop the disaster threatening the Rohingyas. The flight of nearly half a million Muslims is perhaps the quickest mass departure of people from any country, since the infamous genocide in Rwanda, in 1994. Tatmadaw, Myanmar's army is mainly responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas. On the one hand, the government of Aung San Suu Kyi has done little to stop the violence, on the other hand, the UN, too, has been a mere spectator. UN officials gave petty excuses that those in charge of the mission underplayed the exodus of the Rohingyas to win the co-operation of Myanmar's authorities. It has more or less now been established that UN missions have always succumbed to the constraints of local and international politics. Much like the UN's mission in Sri Lanka at the end of the civil war in 2009, between the government and the Tamil Tigers, where the members of the Sri Lankan mission merely appeased the government in Colombo; in Myanmar also, the UN started proposing a policy of development for all in the Rakhine state instead of propagating basic human rights. They even overlooked how the delivery of services was controlled by the enemies of the victims. However, the flight of Myanmar's Rohingyas to Bangladesh should have come as no surprise to the United Nations, as for more than three years, a chorus of voices from within the UN had warned that the country's minority Muslims face a grim reckoning which the UN was ill-prepared to handle and called for pressing the government of Myanmar to put an emergency brake on its abuses. On the other hand, the UN officials also feared that publicly shaming Myanmar's rulers would complicate the efforts of steering the country through a delicate political transition, from military rule to democracy, that would jeopardize the UN's development and humanitarian relief efforts in the country. However, some UN officials are now straining to figure out how and why their policies fell short, and to plot out what, if at all anything, they can do to stem a human tide. Many others believe that it may be too late now as the Myanmar security forces have effectively rewritten the ethnic boundaries of the Rohingyas' heartland in the northern Rakhine state, with little likelihood that they will ever return. Though the refugee crisis has its roots in a long history of Burmese discrimination against the Rohingyas, some of the UN's shortcomings in responding to the crisis appear self-made: the product of long-standing interagency squabbles over turf and policy, compounded by a bureaucratic decision taken in December 1977, that empowered the UN Development Program to appoint the senior official, or resident coordinator, presiding over most of the international body's duty stations around the world. One must not forget that as an agency that relies on the governments' cooperation to accomplish its task, the UNDP has historically shied away from tackling knotty political issues or confronting those governments when they commit abuses. That has ultimately fed a culture of silence that has pervaded many duty stations, subjecting the UN to allegations that it has been complicit in atrocities, from Myanmar to Sri Lanka. Surprisingly, the United Nations food aid agency, World Food Programme, withdrew a critical report revealing desperate hunger among the persecuted Rohingya population, after the Myanmar government demanded that it be taken down.
There are many signs that several UN figures and other international actors have long been reticent to pressure Myanmar on the rights of the Rohingyas. Though the UN categorically rejects these allegations, the lapses in this 'never again' era have invited uneasy comparisons to UN failures in Sri Lanka and Rwanda, which carried great human costs. They also appear to have pushed the UN to try and alter the way it operated in Myanmar. It must also be remembered that the missions need the consent of the host governments to operate and the UN cannot invade it in any case. But, with a hand-in-glove relationship with the 'local powers', the peace-keepers often ignore their moral liability. One reason for the failure is that the mission asks permission from the government before it sends out troops, fearing that otherwise, politicians will obstruct the delivery of food and medicine to the starving and the sick, even more than they already do. But since it is often the government carrying out the massacres, permission is usually refused or delayed. Also, the UN has no mandate to impose its independent will on a country. All peacekeeping missions are authorised by the Security Council and are subject to approval by the General Assembly, giving the superpowers ample room to minimise the scope of missions in the interests of their clients and allies. Nonetheless, with complete failure and criticism from all corners, the UN needs a lot to learn about keeping the peace.

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