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The United Nations has appointed Norwegian Knut Ostby to serve as interim UN resident coordinator in Burma, replacing Renata Lok-Dessallien beginning on 1 November and serving in the role “until further notice,” according to a UN statement released on Tuesday.
Ostby will also act as interim UN humanitarian coordinator and resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme.
“Mr. Ostby has extensive experience in development, human rights and humanitarian affairs from 17 countries and has served as United Nations Resident Coordinator for more than 11 years including in Timor Leste since 2013,” read the UN statement.
His predecessor Lok-Dessallien will be rotated out to a post at the UN headquarters in New York, bringing to an end a rocky tenure that saw multiple reports accuse her of staking out controversial positions favouring an emphasis on development over human rights in Burma. The criticism was particularly pointed when it came to her handling of the UN’s stance toward Rakhine State, where she was accused of downplaying the deteriorating circumstances of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.
Internal documents reportedly described the UN team in Burma as “glaringly dysfunctional,” but in Tuesday’s statement there was no indication that performance was a factor in the change of leadership.
“The Secretary-General is grateful for Ms. Lok-Dessallien’s important contribution and service to United Nation’s [sic] work in Myanmar,” it said.
In his capacity as interim team leader, Ostby will face a host of challenges in managing an increasingly tense relationship between Burma and the UN.
If Lok-Dessallien was reluctant to criticise the country’s human rights record, officials from the world body based farther afield have not been: The UN’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has described the latest violence to wrack Rakhine State as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, while generally hewing to a more measured tone when assessing the situation in Burma’s west, appeared to concur with Zeid when asked whether “ethnic cleansing” was an appropriate descriptor for the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya since August.
“When one-third of the Rohingya population has got to flee the country, can you find a better word to describe it?” he said at a news conference ahead of the UN General Assembly in New York last month.
And in March, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council approved the creation of a fact-finding mission to probe allegations of grave human rights violations in Rakhine State, as well as northern Shan and Kachin states. Burma has said it will not grant the three-member team visas to enter the country.