Bangladesh’s voting on the UN on the situation Myanmar: Concerns and consequences
Shining Editorial || shiningbd
The Myanmar crisis following the military coup on 1st February 2021 has generated a paradoxical situation for Bangladesh diplomacy. One of the puzzles was the voting of Bangladesh during the UN General Assembly on the situation in Myanmar held on 18 June 2021.
The resolution on the ‘Situation in Myanmar’ was adopted by the UN General Assembly with 119 votes in favour, 1 against and 36 abstentions. The resolution has basically called for an arms embargo against Myanmar and condemned the military’s February seizure of power. The 193-member body also requested unimpeded humanitarian access to stop the country’s slide into poverty, dysfunction and despair.
It makes a plea for the Myanmar military to “respect the people’s will as freely expressed by results of the general election of November 8, 2020, to end the state of emergency, to respect all human rights of people of Myanmar and to allow the sustained democratic transition of Myanmar, including the opening of the democratically elected parliament, and by working towards bringing all national institutions, including the armed forces, under a fully inclusive civilian government that is representative of the people’s will.”
The resolution was initiated by a core group of 50 sponsoring member states including the US, EU, UK, and Canada among others. The core group finalized the resolution in consultation with ASEAN members.
To the apparent surprise of many observers, Bangladesh has abstained from the voting. Why has Bangladesh decided to abstain from voting? It is an important question in view of Bangladesh’s twin sufferings – massive influx of the Rohingyas and the adverse consequences of political instability and crisis in the neighbouring state.
From its position of upholding humanitarian cause, Bangladesh clearly sees the limitations of the resolution as it has failed to adequately address the Rohingya issue, an inseparable element of the current political and democratic crisis in Myanmar.
Bangladesh has rightly decided to abstain from voting on the resolution. The country has expressed deep disappointment during the adoption of the resolution. Bangladesh has considered few factors for its crucial decision.
First and foremost, the resolution did not include any recommendations or actions on the issue of repatriation of the Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar.
Second, neither does it recognize nor stress the need for creating a conducive environment in Rakhine for the safe, sustainable and dignified return of the Rohingyas.
Third, the Bangladesh representative makes it clear that “The resolution also lacks the determination to address root causes of the Rohingya crisis through collective means.”
Fourth, it is not only Bangladesh, there are thirty-five more countries that have abstained from voting. It is altogether 74 (1+36+37) member states who have not cast their votes in favour of the resolution. Some key OIC members, including some ASEAN and SAARC members also abstained.
Fifth, precisely, the resolution fell short of expectations and would be sending a wrong message. It would reinforce a sense of impunity in Myanmar.
Sixth, Bangladesh has not abstained from pacifying the Junta government that some countries may have considered. Instead, it has judged the situation from its commitment to the Rohingya issue. It may be mentioned that the 3rd committee resolution on the Rohingyas was spearheaded by Bangladesh along with the OIC and the EU.
Last but not the least, although this UNGA resolution has been initiated under the agenda item ‘Prevention of Armed Conflict, there was a scope to include the Rohingya issue. Several member countries, including Bangladesh, have expressed their strong views to include the Rohingya crisis in the draft so that the resolution would reflect a broad-based and comprehensive reality in Myanmar.
In this context, the deliberations of representatives from Turkey, Iran and Egypt may be mentioned. The Turkish representative and the President of UNGA stressed that this is not just a crisis for the people of Myanmar, highlighting the 1 million Rohingya sheltering in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, and commending that country for helping its neighbours in their “darkest hour.”
The representative of Iran asserted that the country would abstain from the vote because the draft resolution failed to address the plight of Rohingya Muslims adequately. The Egyptian representative stressed the need to ensure the safe, sustained repatriation of the Rohingya and protect that population’s fundamental rights.
The representative unequivocally mentioned that Egypt would abstain from the vote due to the unclear link between the agenda item and the Rohingya issue.
Interestingly, although Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry rejected the resolution, UN-based Myanmar Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, who in February denounced the military takeover, voted “yes” and urged the international community ‘to take the strongest possible action to immediately end the military coup.’ Perhaps more surprising was the abstention by China, Russia, India and Thailand.
These countries have been supporting the Myanmar regime on every occasion, and this time they were supposed to oppose the resolution. But they have taken a new stand, perhaps to avoid embarrassment at the United Nations. The fundamental argument they put forward behind their decisions of abstentions is non-interference in the domestic affairs of Myanmar.
They tend to argue that such kind of resolution would make more harm than good to the people of Myanmar. However, a closer look at their real intention would clearly show that these countries have been consistently supporting the Myanmar regime for their narrow geopolitical interests.
Now what would be the ramifications of Bangladesh’s voting on the resolution?
First, predictably, the decision may bring about criticisms from friends and antagonists of Bangladesh as an immediate consequence. The countries who have supported the resolution, particularly the EU, USA and Canada, may find Bangladesh position unacceptable. These countries are also major donors of global support to the Rohingyas in the Cox’s Bazar camps. They had also been critical of Bangladesh’s decision to relocate 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhashanchar.
As a result, this may create some form of diplomatic hitches for a short term. It is also true that these countries pursue a pragmatic policy for which they would understand Bangladesh’s standpoint soon.
Second, a section of civil society groups, both local and international, would cry against Bangladesh’s decision for their own positions and interests.
Third, quite contrarily, Bangladesh’s decision would be positively viewed by the countries, including the Western world, who are genuinely committed to the cause of the Rohingyas. During their discussion on the draft resolution and post-voting time, many members of the UN have profusely applauded Bangladesh’s contribution to the Rohingya people.
Fourth, Bangladesh has shown to the world that the country pursues an independent and assertive foreign policy based on the merits of the issues and concerns. The country does not subscribe to a fixed notion of aligning or opposing, irrespective of the reality. In this connection, Bangladesh’s voting has made it loud and clear once again that the country does not believe in bandwagoning in its diplomatic pursuits.
Fifth, this decision would strengthen Bangladesh’s bargaining position on the Rohingya crisis in regional and global diplomatic fora. It shows how much importance Bangladesh attaches to the issue for its national security and development.
Sixth, it has also demonstrated Bangladesh’s unique and autonomous viewpoint as the most benevolent country in the entire Rohingya affairs.
Seventh, Bangladesh’s decision has also kept the option of bilateral negotiations with Myanmar and its diplomatic patrons such as China and India open and forthright.
Eighth, as regional powers such as Iran, Turkey and Egypt clearly spelt out their support for linking the Rohingya crisis with the final draft of the resolution, Bangladesh would always find its diplomatic position tenable and credible.
Finally, Bangladesh’s decision of abstention would indicate to a harsh reality that the support of the international community falls far too short of redressing the sufferings of the most persecuted community in the world, the Rohingyas. The latter even recently received unlikely support from the National Unity Government (NUG) in Myanmar.
In conclusion, despite facing a deep political crisis, the Myanmar generals enjoy geopolitical and diplomatic advantages of unusual nature. The sudden dependence of the US and Western world on ASEAN has already proved ineffective for the Myanmar Junta who enjoys cosy relations with its influential members.
It is criticized that the ASEAN has failed to implement its own 24 April consensus statement about the Myanmar crisis for more than eight weeks. The ASEAN has now failed to take a united stand in the UNGA on the issue of Myanmar.
After all, the support of 119 out of 193 members is far less an expected outcome against such a brutal regime running the state affairs in Myanmar. The UNGA resolution has divided the world instead of uniting it due to its failure to include the Rohingya issue.