UN envoy regrets misunderstanding over Myanmar junta ‘power sharing’ suggestion

February 3rd, 2022  •  Author:   MIzzima  •  7 minute read
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United Nations Special Envoy Dr Noeleen Heyzer. Photo: UN Myanmar

United Nations Special Envoy Dr Noeleen Heyzer has issued a statement saying her office regretted a misunderstanding over a suggestion in an interview with Channel News Asia (CNA) indicating she had used a term “power sharing” with the Myanmar junta and proposed it as a solution in the context of the political crisis in Myanmar.

In the statement, issued to the media on 3 February, Dr Heyzer’s office said the envoy had “never proposed power sharing as an option and has consistently advocated for a Myanmar-led process that is reflective of the will and the needs of the people, as reflected in the 2020 elections.”

Civil society groups were up in arms following the interview on the Singapore-based CNA news channel on Monday given the suggestion presented in the interview that “the Myanmar military junta cannot be ignored and left out of any upcoming peace process.”


In a joint statement, 247 civil society organizations said they “rejected UN Special Envoy Dr Heyzer’s proposal that those defying the military must negotiate a power sharing as a solution to the current political, human rights and humanitarian crisis created by the terrorist military junta.”

The CSOs were prompted to respond following the interview with CNA.

In the interview, the UN Special Envoy discusses finding “commonalities”, a political transformation requiring process and a “need to negotiate what this power sharing could look like”.

In the version in print in CNA, the Special Envoy says the Myanmar junta – which came to power in a military coup a year ago – has a role to play in any effort to find peace in Myanmar.

“The military, when I say that they are not legitimate, it doesn’t mean that they have no role. They have a legitimate role. But they are not the legitimate government at this time,” Ms Heyzer, a former under secretary-general of the United Nations who was named its special envoy to Myanmar a few weeks ago, told CNA.

Ms Heyzer said this to CNA in the wake of statements by the pro-democracy National Unity Government who insist that the military, with its record of violence, should be totally excluded from any talks about the future of the country.

“The killing will even get worse, unless we find a way to actually stop it,” Ms Heyzer told CNA.

However, Ms Heyzer also emphasised that while the military will have to be part of any upcoming peace process, the junta cannot be the force leading the process going forward.

And she urged youth activists protesting against the Tatmadaw to moderate their stance and think in the long-term.

“I know that many young people, especially the young, they’re willing to die fighting for a total political transformation,” she said. “Any political transformation requires a process and it’s not going to happen overnight. And therefore, I want them to have something to live for, not to die for.”


Coming on the first anniversary of the coup, the UN Special Envoy’s comments have been met with strong reactions, according to the statement by the CSOs.

In addition to the concern over the suggestion of power sharing with the military junta, the CSOs further raise alarm at the comments she made during her interview in which she claims that “The military is in control at this particular time”.

The CSOs say: “These statements could set a dangerous precedent, that those who take control through brutal means – massacring, killing, raping, arresting, torturing, burning villages and people, targeting civilians using airstrikes and shelling – be welcomed to share power. Such suggestions send a signal to the military that the UN is willing to act as a broker for their power despite the grave crimes they have committed, and further embolden them to commit atrocities with total impunity.

“The youth who are continuing to call for an end to the military’s terror are not being unrealistic in their efforts to see their human rights and fundamental freedoms protected. Their calls reflect the principles laid out in the UN Charter and deserve the full support and respect of UN mandate holders.


“In addition, it is not required of revolutionary movements to end in a power sharing agreement with those that have committed genocide and continue to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. History has shown us that coups around the world have failed, and revolutions have succeeded. Those who have committed grave international crimes must be held accountable, not offered more power,

a seat at the table and legitimacy by the international community. This will only embolden them to continue to commit grave crimes with total impunity.

“It has been over a decade since the military initiated their political process of power sharing. This consisted of unelected military officials holding 25% of the seats in parliament and control over key ministries that were integral to the governance of Myanmar, under a military-drafted 2008 Constitution that undemocratically ensured their place in the corridors of power.

“They stole the wealth of the people of Myanmar for decades during the military dictatorship and throughout the military orchestrated political process of the past decade. They exploited natural resources, while continuing to commit war crimes against people who live in resource-rich ethnic areas.


“For over 70 years the military has waged a fierce war against ethnic peoples, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. While sharing limited power with the National League for Democracy, they committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against ethnic people and genocide against the Rohingya.

“The Special Envoy should advise the UN Security Council to immediately refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court so that these grave crimes committed by the Myanmar military can be investigated and prosecuted. Offering them a seat at the negotiating table is not in accordance with

the ‘will and interests of the people of Myanmar’ as adopted in resolutions at the UN General Assembly.

“The Special Envoy’s misinterpretation that ‘the military is in control’ could not be farther from the truth. Over the past year, Myanmar people’s revolutionary movement has successfully prevented the military from grabbing power over the country, despite all its brutal efforts. The military are, however, conducting fierce airstrikes in ethnic areas where they are losing territorial control; shooting and shelling people forcing them to flee across the border into neighboring countries, threatening international peace and security; burning bodies including children and staff of international organizations in an attempt to instill terror. These are not acts of a military who are in control.


“International experts on Myanmar have previously stated in response to UN officials inaccurately suggesting that military has ‘taken over’ or that it has an ‘iron grip on power’, that ‘misinterpretation leads to misrepresentation, misrepresentation leads to misunderstanding, and misunderstanding leads to mistakes’.

“We could not agree more.

“Such mistakes have been a persistent problem for the UN in Myanmar as outlined in the Rosenthal report, which found that systemic and structural failures rendered the UN impotent in the face of the Rohingya genocide. The UN must not make the same mistakes, and once again, fail the people of Myanmar.

“If the Special Envoy is genuinely committed to a ‘Myanmar-led process’ and engaging ‘directly with and listen carefully to all those affected by the ongoing crisis’, she must understand the root causes of the current crisis and genuinely listen to the calls of the people of Myanmar. Their calls have been clear. The military must never rule.”

The CSO statement finishes with a call to respect the will of the people of Myanmar.

“The UN Special Envoy and other mandate holders, as well as UN agencies, funds programs and entities, must support the calls of the people of Myanmar and their efforts towards a future federal democratic Myanmar. They must respect their will and work to ensure that the military is never again allowed to have power.”

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