'Systemic' UN failure in Myanmar: review

The 2017 Myanmar crackdown drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh.
The 2017 Myanmar crackdown drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh.

There was a "systemic failure" of the United Nations in dealing with the situation in Myanmar ahead of a deadly 2017 military crackdown because it lacked a unified strategy and Security Council support, internal reports say.

The crackdown drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. UN investigators have said the operation was executed with "genocidal intent" and included mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson.

Myanmar denied widespread wrongdoing, saying the campaign across villages in northern Rakhine was in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

"Without question serious errors were committed and opportunities were lost in the UN system following a fragmented strategy rather than a common plan of action," wrote former Guatemalan foreign minister and UN ambassador Gert Rosenthal in a 34-page internal review, seen by Reuters.

"The overall responsibility was of a collective character; in other words, it truly can be characterised as a systemic failure of the United Nations."

The report will be published on Monday.

Rosenthal said senior UN officials could not agree on whether to take a more robust public approach with Myanmar or pursue quiet diplomacy, and that conflicting reports were sent to UN headquarters from the field.

The UN struggled to balance supporting the Myanmar government with development and humanitarian assistance, while also calling out the authorities over accusations of human rights violations, Rosenthal concluded.

"The United Nations system ... has been relatively impotent to effectively work with the authorities of Myanmar to reverse the negative trends in the area of human rights and consolidate the positive trends in other areas," he said.

"The United Nations' collective membership, represented by the Security Council, bears part of that responsibility, by not providing enough support to the secretariat when such backing was and continues to be essential."

The 15-member Security Council, which visited Myanmar's Rakhine state last year, has been deadlocked, with Myanmar allies China and Russia pitted against Western states over how to deal with the situation.

Human Rights Watch said the report was disappointing, given its failure to identify specific UN officials responsible for problems.

"The report now looks increasingly like a check-the-box exercise by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, designed to show commitment to accountability when in reality it accomplishes exactly the opposite," Phil Robertson, the group's deputy director for Asia, said.

Australian Associated Press