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Chapter Iii. Criticizing On Un Involvement In The Crisis Of Rakhine

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United Nations is an international organization which conducts the cooperation of all the countries around the world in various sectors. Therefore, one of the main duties of the United Nations is to resolve the issues that happened in the world and also to maintain international peace and security for the whole world regardless of its members or not. Thus, the crisis in Rakhine state became an urgent matter to address for UN as they claimed that Muslim minorities are facing discrimination by the government of Myanmar. However, the efforts of UN seemed failed. This is evidenced by the problems in Rakhine state still remain even with the still assistance from UN in Myanmar.

Source: UNHCR statistical year books

Even though the data from the graph applies to all Myanmar refugees including those escaping other forms of persecution, the escalation of the exodus occurred in 1978 and 1992-1993, that were the times of Burmese authorities undertaking discriminatory measures against Bengalis. Besides, the data escalated in 2012, 2015, during which thousands of Bengalis fled the country, and thus it is obvious that the escalations may be the consequences of the violence occurred in Rakhine state.

From the above graph, we can clearly see that in Myanmar, and especially the Rakhine state, the number of people fleeing the country increased year by year rather than it should drop with the involvement of and assistance from UN. In this way, it can be assumed that the activities of UN in Rakhine crisis did not bring succcess. Here, based on the analysis, we’ve found out that the failure of UN activities rooted in the facts mentioned below.

Criticism #1: Structural problems: In-fighting within UN

Since UN consists of various organs and bodies fulfilling different functions and conducting with different methods, thus UN agencies intervening in Myanmar are somewhat fragmented. Some like human rights agency, OHCHR, focus on human rights and humanitarian crises whereas some like the emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, focus on development. Consequently, tensions between UN agencies that focus on human rights and humanitarian crises and those focus on development were existed.

In an April 2017 internal document sent to Secretary General Guterres, it was stated that:

“The United Nations in-country presence in Myanmar continues to be glaringly dysfunctional. Strong tensions exist within the UN country team, the humanitarian parts of the UN system find itself having to confront the hostility of the development arm, while the human rights pillar is seen as complicating both.”

The divisions within the UN lead to the lack of overall responsibility to emerge with the common vision of what crucially required to be done and thus impeded the UN’s efforts.

In addition to this, there is the ambiguous chain of command between UN office in Myanmar and UN headquarter. And the reports are not directly reported by the resident coordinator to the UN Secretary General’s office. Instead, they were reported to the UNDP and hence, increase to focus on development. Unfortunately, there is lack of mandate and capacity for the coordinator of UN’s development efforts and lack of expert coordinator, and thus the credibility to be taken seriously as a political player. These structural problems put impediments on UN’s efforts to address the problems and to improve the lives of vulnerable people in Myanmar including Bengalis.

Criticism #2: Lack of coherent strategy

Over the past few years, UN’s response to Rakhine crisis had been confused. There is no accurate focal point in addressing the situation in Rakhine state. UN’s approach focuses on the totality of the political, the human rights, the humanitarian and the development. It remains diffuse. Since UN’s efforts to address the situation in Rakhine state are fragmented, the implementation of coherent strategic response is complicated. There are significant structural impediments on the implementation of such a coherent strategy in the absence of the UN political architecture and headquarters leadership required. The successful implementation of a UN system-wide strategy and its development will be crucially influenced by relations with both Union and Rakhine State governments and alignments. Nevertheless, there is as yet no clear all-embracing government strategy on Rakhine and no clear government policy focal point for Rakhine policy. This presents a serious challenge for UN but it makes it all the more important that the UN has a coherent strategy for its ongoing work in Rakhine state. Without a coherent strategy, it is highly unlikely that the framework will have any real impact on UN action in Rakhine state.

Criticism # 3: Prioritizing on development

As mentioned in Criticism 1, the frictions present within UN: focus on the human rights and humanitarian agenda and on the development agenda. Within UN system, UN Resident Coordinators for countries where UN operates are especially appointed by the UNDP, thus UNDP seems to have much greater role. This fact points out the likelihood of giving the chief impetus to improve conditions for the Bengalis lies less with human rights advocacy and more with development. An internal UN report, titled “Slippery Slope: Helping Victims or Supporting Systems of Abuse” states that:

“The UNCT strategy with respect to human rights focuses on heavily on the oversimplified hope that development investment itself will reduce tensions…”

It is clear that the UN and the international community prioritized long-term development in Rakhine in the hope that eventually increased prosperity would lead to reduce tensions. The predominant approach of the resident coordinators and the UN senior officials within Myanmar has been to avoid challenging the government on its poor rights record. Instead, it gives attention on a pragmatic approach considering which improvements can be gradually brought about for the Bengalis. This approach was criticized a review paper of “ Fieldview Solutions” by Liam Mahony with the replacement of conditioning on the donors and agencies’ contributions and programming in Myanmar- linking such support to the granting of freedom of movement and other rights of Bengalis. Thus, this donor community investment on development, with the idea that development will bring significant changes, leads to the vulnerability in tackling the several rights deprivations suffered by the Bengalis which are largely the product of widely supported legislation.

Criticism # 4: Lack of enforcement

In Myanmar, UN lacks of enforcement as the investigating bodies for Myanmar are sponsored by UNHRC. There are multiple types of investigating bodies just within UNHRC including FFMs and expert groups. Investigating bodies such as FFM and the Special Rapporteur exist in Myanmar. Nevertheless, investigative bodies created outside the UNSC are relatively weak. In fact, within UN, UNSC’s enforcement capability is relatively stronger than other UN bodies since its primary responsibility is the maintenance of international peace and security. If the investigative bodies for Myanmar had been sponsored by UNSC’s enforcement capability in place of UNHRC, then the enforcement actions would be more effective.

However, the attempts to take enforcement actions and stronger involvement by the UNSC in addressing Rakhine crisis still remain far because of the fact that China and Russia postponed through veto power due to familiar diplomatic ties and especially China’s substantial economic and military ties with Myanmar. On October 31 2017, the UNSC resolution that called on Myanmar government for an end to the violence, access for humanitarian aid workers in Rakhine and for the return of Bengalis who fled to Bangladesh was opposed by China. Thus, the resolution turned into a presidential statement which is not enforceable like a resolution. Hence, the UNSC failed to adopt the enforceable resolutions to take enforcement measures for addressing the Rakhine crisis.


Currently, Myanmar is experiencing the fragile and rough political transition. Myanmar faces both challenging political issues or conflicts and humanitarian crises. UN in Myanmar is facing the problems in countering the challenges that Myanmar face. Unfortunately, the efforts of UN failed to tackle the situations in Rakhine owed to their structural problems, lack of coherent strategy, lack of enforcement and prioritizing on development. Nowadays, many people in Myanmar see the UN as biased, irrelevant and not affective of addressing the country’s existing issues. If the UN cannot position itself in the right place and cannot fix the problems it faces, there is a great challenge that it will become more and more irrelevant in Myanmar which needs outside assistance.

Many areas in Myanmar still need to be assisted with raising economic, social, cultural and human rights standards as well as increasing access to health, education and political rights. UN needs to take measures in helping these areas. Furthermore, the UN can engage in issues such as climate change, peace building and sustainable building and sustainable development. It is time for UN to make effort in deep research and look to Myanmar with a fresh perspective and new energy. UN would bring a very remarkable history in Myanmar if a very effective UN coordinator is appointed.

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