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* Taken directly from Gert Rosenthal's A Brief and Independent Inquiry Into the Involvement of the United Nations in Myanmar From 2010 to 2018.  Read the entire report here.

Probably the single most transcendental decision taken in recent times regarding the UN presence in the field was the implementation of what was called “a new generation of United Nations country teams.”  The separation of the functions of the resident coordinator from those of the resident representative of the UNDP has the obvious potential to improve coordination of system-wide goals in contrast to the narrower goals of each of the entities belonging to a country team. At the same time, it entails the risk of feeding the perception that the head of the country team is concerned with “political affairs” (despite the resolution indicating explicitly that the focus of the resident coordinator system should remain sustainable development), producing a potential cleavage between the activities of the three pillars, something the resolutions is precisely designed to preclude.  This aspect strays far from the purpose of this review, but the consultant felt the need to underline the importance of “getting it right” when the new generation of country teams is put in place.  If it is implemented properly, it certainly should help in addressing and managing complex situations in the future, such as the one encountered in Myanmar by, among other aspects, fostering trans-pillar coordination. 

It hardly seems necessary to belabor the obvious point of how critically important it is to pick the right person for the right place at the right time, when selecting a Resident Coordinator under the “new generation” arrangement (and then hopefully secure the host country’s agreement to the proposed designee). The effective use of the Inter-Agency Advisory Panel should be helpful in identifying suitable candidates for each specific situation. Perhaps less obvious is the need to be prepared for replacing a RC if circumstances in a specific duty station change significantly, in order to match the profile with the changing requirements. This should be done in a timely fashion, and without detriment to the career of the professionals affected. The need to adapt to changing circumstances held true in the past under the previous RC system, and is also relevant for the future.

It is equally important to get the new architecture of the Executive Office of the SecretaryGeneral right, with the Executive Committee (at the Principles and at the Deputies levels), as the main decision-making nodal point on issues of strategic consequence requiring principal-level attention across all pillars of the Organization’s work, coupled with the Regional Monthly Reviews (RMRs), and in close coordination with the UN Development Coordination Office. It is essential that the strategic coordination unit of the EOSG and its subsidiary units receive the staffing and funding necessary to do their work effectively. This would constitute a marked improvement over the preceding internal coordination arrangements.

It is also crucial that there be clear lines of communications, horizontally and vertically, so that system-wide decisions taken at the most senior levels be relayed downwards and understood by all members of the international civil service.

Closely related to the above, the United Nations needs to improve, systematize and share the gathering of data, information and analysis of events on the ground in real time, in order to provide Headquarters with the best and complete information available on which the Organization can take informed decisions. If there are diverse interpretations coming from different quarters, these should be shared system-wide, and an instance to try to arbitrate and reconcile those differences is required in order to at least understand the logic between them in order to facilitate decision-making.

The mandate adopted by the General Assembly to re-instate the figure of a special envoy on Myanmar also has implications for the new generation of United Nations country teams mentioned above. This decision has a mixed potential. On the one hand, if the incumbent special envoy gains the trust of the Government, it would offer a new channel of communication and dialogue between the Government and the United Nations that is separate from existing institutional structures. But, on the other hand, the existence of a special envoy might add some confusion regarding where his or her functions end and those of the Resident Coordinator begin. Still, a positive development which should be taken at face value is the Government’s announced decision to cooperate fully with the Special Envoy and to have authorized the establishment of an office with a representative of the Special Envoy in Nay Pyi Taw.

The Secretariat should assume a more pro-active stance in taking advantage of its Article 99 prerogatives (not necessarily invoking that prerogative in an express manner, but acting on it) in trying to gain individual and collective support from elected and especially permanent members of the Security Council for initiatives where development objectives are threatened by human rights violations that can morph into threats to international peace and security. The consultant is cognizant of the fact that some of the permanent members would be very reluctant to even discuss the matter, and that, in general, the international environment for insisting on the respect for human rights and the rule of law is not at its most favorable moment at this juncture in time. Still, no one can fault the SecretaryGeneral for pursuing the Security Council’s involvement in getting Myanmar’s political process back on track, and that inevitably requires finding a solution to the situation of the Rohingya people and of that of other Muslim minorities.

The United Nations has increasingly sought partnerships in promoting its diverse agenda all over the globe, and the selection of privileged partners can be especially important in country-specific situations. This holds true for both bilateral and multilateral partners, as well as for those that belong to the non-governmental sector. In the case of Myanmar, China, India and Indonesia are potential privileged bilateral partners, as is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the multilateral orbit. Rallying selected bilateral and multilateral actors around a UN initiative is even more important in the absence of formal Security Council support. The United Nations has a long tradition of cooperating with international NGOs, which is especially relevant for the present circumstances in Myanmar.

Regarding trans-pillar coordination, it is also pertinent to recall twin resolutions A/70/262 - S/2282(2016), emphasizing that “sustaining peace requires coherence, sustained engagement, and coordination between the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the Economic and Social Council, consistent with their mandates as set out in the Charter of the United Nations.” This is another way for calling once again for a reversal of the extreme fragmentation in which the United Nations has fallen over the years, to the detriment of a more effective and coherent response in situations like Myanmar.

In summary, the biggest challenge that the UN faced in Myanmar from 2010 to the present was seeking to engage the host Government in simultaneously undertaking initiatives to provide development and humanitarian assistance, while also taking the host Government to task for what are generally perceived as violations of international laws and norms regarding the protection of human rights. The UN possesses the capabilities to pursue both goals simultaneously, given its multiplicity of mandates and areas of expertise; it is a matter of calibration of these different components of the Organization to achieve what admittedly is a difficult balancing act.

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