UN Envoy Warns of ‘Multidimensional Catastrophe’ in Myanmar, Urges Global Action

By The Irrawaddy 5 September 2022

The UN Special envoy on Myanmar has warned of a “multidimensional catastrophe” if the regional and international communities don’t make a serious effort to support the Southeast Asian country, which has descended into conflict since last year’s military coup.

Myanmar has been politically and economically devastated since the coup. Far from bringing the whole country under its control, the regime is still struggling with nationwide  popular armed resistance against its rule. The economy has been in a downward spiral, with fuel in short supply and foreign reserves dwindling.

“We cannot wait. A multidimensional catastrophe will emerge in the heart of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] unless we as a regional and international community come together to seriously find new ways to support this Myanmar-led process towards an inclusive society and democratic future,” said the envoy, Noeleen Heyzer, in her remarks at a seminar at the ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore on Monday. Myanmar is an ASEAN member.

The warning came after her controversial mission to Myanmar last month during which she met with regime chief Min Aung Hlaing in an attempt to mediate the crisis, including calling for an immediate end to the junta’s violence against the Myanmar people. However, after receiving a low-grade reception from the junta she made no breakthrough. Instead, it became another failed UN mission in Myanmar, used by the regime to promote its legitimacy as well as to express its displeasure over the UN’s actions against it.

However, the envoy insisted that her visit was part of the UN’s broader efforts to support an effective and peaceful Myanmar-led political pathway to return to civilian rule based on the will of the people, saying, “My mandate as an impartial actor [is] to engage with all stakeholders in Myanmar, the region and globally, consistent with the principles of the United Nations.”

In her remarks at the seminar on Monday, the envoy said there was no clear path out of the crisis and that there would be no easy solutions. During her visit to Myanmar, she wasn’t allowed to meet detained popular leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and she said on Monday that “If I ever visit Myanmar again, it will only be if I can meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”

She also admitted that in the case of Myanmar, the limitations of the United Nations and the international community are also clear, adding that continued differences in the positions among member states of the UN was also a factor, according to highlights of the seminar released by the envoy’s office.

“Thus, I will continue to appeal to all governments, regional organizations and other key stakeholders, to listen to the will of [the] people and be guided by that will,” she said.

Despite its condemnation of the coup and the regime’s killing of more than 2,000 people so far, the UN has still failed to take serious action against the Myanmar junta. The UN Security Council still hasn’t been able to pass any resolutions due to resistance from China and Russia, the junta’s major allies.

At the regional level, ASEAN has tried to mediate the Myanmar crisis since last year with its peace plan, which includes an immediate cessation of violence against civilians. However, the junta ignored the plan.

At the same time, both the UN and ASEAN have failed to “officially engage” with Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), which was formed by the elected lawmakers of the ousted National League for Democracy and their ethnic allies, and commands the loyalty of the vast majority of Myanmar people.

Following the envoy’s meeting with Min Aung Hlaing , the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M), a group of former UN experts on the country, urged Heyzer to engage with the NUG instead.

The NUG also called on the envoy to publicly strengthen partnerships with it, as well as with ethnic armed organizations and civil society, and to truly listen to and respect the aspirations of the Myanmar people.