In August and September 2022, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), UN Food Agriculture Organization (FAO), and UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) all signed new agreements and presented credentials to the terrorist Burmese junta, which calls itself the State Administrative Council (SAC).
According to the internal UN rules for the UN Country Team (UNCT) engagement in post-coup context, “official meetings and public events with senior officials newly appointed by the de facto authorities should be avoided. In case the UN is invited to such meetings, appropriate representation needs to be consulted with the Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator who will decide if further consultations with UN Headquarters are necessary.”
Based on this we are safe to conclude that above mentioned UN agencies have not acted on its own, but that they have consulted their move with the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr Ramanathan Rama Balakrishnan, and that signing of the memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) and Letters of Agreement (LoA) with the junta has been a carefully coordinated and calibrated joint action.
At the same time, the UN Resident Coordinator and the UN Heads of Agencies have not signed or in any other way publicly engaged with the National Unity Government (NUG). This has understandably raised a lot questions and concerns from the people of Burma about what the UN is doing in coordination with the junta.
The junta is an illegitimate power usurper which is neither de jure nor de facto government of Burma. The junta is the one who is waging the war against the civilian population of the country and is the only reason why the there is a dramatic humanitarian crisis in the country.
The junta’s airforce, helicopters and soldiers have burned and destroyed over 28,000 civilian houses and properties since February 2021, and more than one million people have been displaced. Those villages and houses have not been destroyed and civilians have not been forced from the land because of some “clashes” (as UN OCHA updates call it), but because the Burma Army’s purposeful, intentional and systematic “clearance operations” targeting civilians. “Clearance” is how it calls its operations, in the language of the Geneva convention and fundamental UN human rights documents, it is called war crimes and crimes against humanity, taking place intentionally and on a mass scale.
Numerous recent cases have been documented showing junta soldiers and affiliated “blood-thirsty” militias (as they proudly name themselves) deliberately destroying food stocks, killing domestic animals and preventing aid to reach villagers forced from their properties and land.
Everybody in Burma, including the UN Heads of Agencies, are aware that the “Four Cuts” policy is the junta’s and army’s modus operandi to prevent any food, medicine, fuel, information or aid to reach the territories that are regarded as supporting the resistance. That is today over 80 percent of the country.
The ‘Four cuts’ strategy was first used in the 1960s when the military was fighting with the Karen National Union (KNU), Burma’s oldest ethnic armed group. The military has also used four cuts in Kachin State in 2011 when about 100,000 people have been forced out of their homes and land. It was also used in Rakhine State between 2018 and 2020 when about 230,000 people were displaced. The Rohingya genocide took place in two waves, from October 2016 to January 2017 and again in August 2017 and forced over one million Rohingya to flee to other countries.
Naw Htoo Htoo from the Karen Human Rights Group has described to Al Jazeera what the ‘Four Cuts’ include: “They fired indiscriminately at Karen villages, destroyed every food and aid item they thought was meant to support the KNU… restricted medical aid in conflict-affected areas, arrested people they suspected of providing aid and food, and arrested their family members. They also used widespread sexual violence and forcibly relocated entire communities.”
Being painfully aware of what the Burma Army’s “Clearance Operations” and “Four Cuts” policy mean and include, the people of Burma have been seriously alarmed by the UN agencies signing the memorandums of understanding (MoU) and letters of agreement (LoA) with the junta. The question that has arisen is what the UN agencies have agreed to do in agreement with the junta and what they have accepted not to do – under the diktat and blackmail of the junta.
This is a serious concern and the best and easiest way for the UN agencies to dispel suspicion and mistrust is to make their Memorandums of Understanding public. If UN agencies are neutral actors providing purely humanitarian aid at their own discretion, then surely this is not a difficult demand by the Myanmar public.
UN agencies have agreed and signed something with an illegitimate and genocidal force that is waging war against civilians The UN agencies have done that claiming that their intention is to serve the interests of these same civilians so it can meet the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable in across the country. The UN agencies are doing that with the financial resources provided by the donor countries to serve the needs of Burma’s peoples.
There are well founded reasons to be suspicious of what exactly the UN agencies have agreed with the junta. What will these international aid organizations do and under which conditions? It is also important to question what constraints the UN agencies have accepted to follow. Next, a critically important question is how they will implement their agreed activities and with whom exactly.
The people of Burma have the right to require transparency from the UN agencies in these times of grave national crisis, when they are being brutalized by a military that conducts atrocities as standard operating procedure. They have the right to demand from these UN agencies to publish what they have signed. The onus is on the UN in Burma to clarify what role they are playing and how it is, or is not, supporting the junta.
Igor Blazevic is a senior advisor at the Prague Civil Society Centre and lecturer at the Educational Initiatives.
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