The United Nations has deferred a decision on who will represent Myanmar at the world body in an apparent diplomatic win for the country’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), which will continue to hold the seat despite the ruling military junta’s efforts to install its own envoy.
Following a meeting on Wednesday in New York, the U.N. Credentials Committee announced that it would indefinitely postpone the decision, allowing NUG representative Kyaw Moe Tun to retain his seat at least until the end of his term on Dec. 31, in what observers called a serious blow to Myanmar’s junta on the world stage.
Swedish Ambassador Anna Karin Eneström, the current president of the U.N. Credentials Committee, told reporters on Wednesday that the decision to postpone was due to “the ongoing situation in Myanmar.” But she declined to comment on whether the current envoy will be allowed to continue attending U.N. meetings on Myanmar’s behalf.
On Thursday, junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the deferral is neither in line with U.N. principles nor international law and urged the committee to appoint Colonel Aung Thurein — its military attaché at the Myanmar Embassy in Washington — in Kyaw Moe Tun’s stead.
“Sovereignty is defined in international law as the freedom of a country to make its own decisions in its internal and external affairs,” he said.
“The principle of equality for sovereign states is also enshrined in … the U.N. Charter, which states that the United Nations is based on the sovereignty and equality of all members. This decision is not in line with that treaty.”
The announcement follows three recent snubs of the junta at meetings of the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is one of 10 members.
Last week, leaders from some 50 Asian and European countries called on Myanmar to return to the democratic transition that was halted by a military coup, release arbitrarily detained prisoners, and accept a Southeast Asian envoy to mediate the country’s 10-month-old political crisis.
Myanmar did not attend the two-day virtual Asia-Europe Meeting beginning on Nov. 25 — the third time the ASEAN had sidelined junta leader Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing over the violence and repression in the wake of the Feb. 1 overthrow of the country’s elected government.
The sticking point — which also kept Myanmar out of an ASEAN-China special summit this week and the bloc’s leaders’ meeting in Brunei in October — was the military regime’s failure to honor a pledge made last April to allow an ASEAN special envoy to meet deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and lawmakers ousted in February’s coup.
The civilian death toll since the military takeover is more than 1,300 while nearly 7,700 people remained detained, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Hundreds of thousands are internally displaced in the country of 54 million people, amid food shortages and the coronavirus pandemic.
The ‘voice of the people’
On Thursday, diplomatic experts told RFA that the deferral ensures that Kyaw Moe Tun will remain the legitimate envoy for Myanmar to the U.N. until the Credentials Committee makes a final decision.
Aung Myo Min, NUG’s human rights minister, said the decision allows Kyaw Moe Tun to continue to act as the voice of the people of Myanmar.
“The main thing is to allow the current incumbent to continue to represent Myanmar at the United Nations,” he said.
“So far, NUG hasn’t been officially recognized, but the voice of the people and NUG can now be heard at the U.N. through Kyaw Moe Tun. It also means we have an official channel that reflects the voice of Myanmar people. This is another step towards recognizing the NUG as a legitimate government.”
The U.N. Credentials Committee is comprised of the U.S., Russia, The Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, Sierra Leone, Namibia, and Sweden. Aung Myo Min said China and Russia—which have close ties with the junta—also agreed to the decision to defer, which was made following a heated discussion.
Political analyst Dr. Sai Kyi Zin Soe said China and Russia, who have defended Myanmar’s successive military regimes in the past, are no longer standing up for the junta.
“It’s a serious blow — it hurts. [The junta] no longer have a voice in the international arena, especially in diplomacy,” he said.
“Even if a country wants to deal with Myanmar, doing so could have other implications, and so it would have to think hard before dealing with the junta.”
It is not yet known when the U.N. Credentials Committee will make its decision on who will officially represent Myanmar. The decision to postpone will soon be submitted to the U.N. General Assembly for approval.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.