Rival Bids For Myanmars UN Seat

Ahead of the United Nation’s (UN) 76th General Assembly session, there is uncertainty over who will fill Myanmar’s seat at the world body. Both the ruling junta and the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) are pressing ahead with rival bids of their own. The former sought international legitimacy by ousting the country’s UN ambassador, appointed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratic government and supported by the opposition NUG shadow unity government.

The name put forward by Myanmar’s junta is military veteran Aung Thurein. This choice would see him replace Suu Kyi’s Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, who fell out of favour after he addressed the General Assembly back in February. In his speech, Kyaw Moe Tun called for the “strongest possible action from the international community.” This was later followed by last month’s troubling events that saw two Myanmar nationals arrested in New York for plotting to kill or injure him. This move is widely seen as an attempt to force him to step down from the post.

News of the rival bids was confirmed by UN spokesperson Farhan Haq, who said that the organization had “two sets of communications concerning Myanmar’s representation” at this year’s UN General Assembly. This new development, in what has been a troubling period for Myanmar, since former Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi’s ouster, is seen as an attempt by the ruling military junta to gain international legitimacy.

If—and that is a big if—the UN with its global standing and the values it represents, were to approve Aung Thurein to be its Myanmar’s UN envoy, this would represent a significant boost to the military junta’s legitimacy. A different outcome, such as opting to maintain the current holder of the seat, or simply holding off on a final decision would maintain the current regime’s “pariah status” within the international community. This is an untenable situation, considering the level of instability that has left thousands of people internally displaced in the midst of an ailing economy and a collapsing health system.

The power to make such a decision lays with a committee composed of 9 member states who are appointed at the start of each General Assembly session. Russia, China and the United States are the regular fixtures within the committee and the other members are chosen on a rotational basis. This leaves open the possibility that strategic and geopolitical considerations may influence the process, resulting in the strategic interests that are at play whenever the “permanent members” are involved.

The UN committee considers the credentials of all 193-members and submits a report for General Assembly approval before the end of the year. This year, the committee has the somewhat unenviable task of tackling this issue together with the issue of Afghanistan, whose worthiness of a seat is in question now that it has an equally divisive government in power. However, the fact that the committee traditionally does not meet until October or November, means that a final decision will only be made after proper deliberations have taken place.

According to UN rules, Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun will remain in the seat until that decision has been made. This would see Kyaw Moe Tun address the world body on 27 September. One can only hope that the world is not about to witness a situation similar to the one in the late 1990s that saw Afghanistan’s ambassador remain in place for 5 years despite the overthrow of the government by the Taliban. In that instance, the committee deferred its decision on rival claims to the seat. Back then the decision was informed by an understanding that the then-representatives of Afghanistan accredited to the United Nations would continue to participate in the work of the General Assembly.

Today, a repeat of keeping Kyaw Moe Tun in place could further isolate the junta, when what is needed is open dialogue and a concerted push for ceasefire to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid to the country. Just last week, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ envoy to Myanmar, Erywan Yusof, announced that the junta had accepted his proposal for a ceasefire. Hostilities between them and opposition would cease until the end of the year to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid. It remains to be seen whether the outcome of the committee’s talks could aid or hamper these efforts.

Arthur Jamo
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