New report slams UN’s handling of Myanmar crisis

The United Nations has failed “at multiple levels” to effectively address Myanmar’s military coup and its ensuing upheaval, according to a damning new report released on Monday.

The report, published by the New York-based International Peace Institute (IPI), says the UN has done little to rein in the violence unleashed by the military since it seized power nearly five months ago. 

The UN’s handling of Myanmar’s ongoing human rights crisis has been “bereft of leadership, direction and coherence at multiple levels,” the report found.

With nearly 900 civilians killed by the junta since the February 1 coup, and thousands more imprisoned or disappeared, the world body’s response to the crisis has been “woefully inadequate,” according to Damian Lilly, the author of the report.

As director of protection at the Myanmar Accountability Project (MAP), a London-based NGO that works with civil society groups to build criminal cases against individuals responsible for violence against civilians, Lilly based his report on field research and interviews with officials dealing with the crisis.

He found that the UN system “faces systematic, structural and leadership challenges when responding to atrocity crimes” and urged the UN to spearhead “a robust international response” to the situation.

While he singles out China and Russia for their role in obstructing efforts to hold the generals to account, he also faults the UN team within Myanmar for its inaction.

The team has been “unable or unwilling” to implement “basic protection measures such as legal aid, psychosocial support, and case management for the thousands of civilians who have been impacted by the violence,” according to Lilly.

Christopher Gunness, the director of MAP, noted that the UN has also failed on a more fundamental level, by not implementing findings from investigations into the military’s past atrocities. 

This, he suggests, has contributed to the regime’s perception that it can act with impunity.

“The UN has been a passive bystander and complicit observer of crimes against humanity committed on an industrial scale,” he said.

In addition to highlighting human rights issues, MAP also seeks to use UK courts to deny the regime what it seeks most—acceptance as the de facto government of Myanmar.

It has done this in part by legally challenging the junta’s seizure of the country’s embassy in London after its ambassador expressed support for the ousted civilian government. 

The regime is “desperately seeking recognition and legitimacy and all UN member states must deny them this as they have seized power illegally,” Gunness told Myanmar Now.

But with the junta “waging a campaign of terror against their own people,” as the IPI report describes the military’s efforts to crush opposition to its rule, human rights remain a primary concern.

At present, one of the UN’s chief tools for addressing this issue is the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), established in 2018 to gather evidence of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide committed by the country’s security forces.

Formed in the wake of mass atrocities against the Rohingya people, the IIMM’s mandate also extends to the current crisis, according to a commentary on its role published in March.

However, like other UN efforts, this one has also been found wanting.

“The IIMM is slow moving, its officials are far [from] transparent about what they are doing, and for the people of Myanmar who deserve justice now, the IIMM is not fit for purpose,” said Gunness. 

“I hope that one day soon, the IIMM will be able to show the world its value in promoting justice and accountability. But for the moment, the jury is out on the IIMM,” he added.

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