Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in Myanmar

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
February 28, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President, and congratulations on completing your presidency of the Council. And thank you, Special Envoy Burgener, for your briefing and for your important work on Myanmar. Welcome, to the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh. Thank you for joining us and for all that your country has done for the Rohingya people.

The United States remains deeply concerned about the situation in Myanmar, especially in Rakhine State. Progress on the ground has been limited.

As our Vice President said in his meeting with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi: “The violence and persecution by the military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse.” We agree with UNHCR’s assessment that conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for voluntary returns, and that the responsibility to improve those conditions rests with Myanmar.

The return of refugees and internally displaced persons must be voluntary, safe, dignified, sustainable, and consistent with international principles. Returns should be based on reliable information about the conditions in the relevant areas of Myanmar. Unhindered humanitarian, media, and NGO access is necessary to understand conditions in areas of return and to allow refugees and IDPs to make informed choices.

We continue to urge the Government of Myanmar to create conditions for voluntary repatriation and to address the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine State. This requires improving the living conditions for those ethnic Rohingya remaining in Rakhine State, including a transparent and efficient citizenship verification process, freedom of movement, access to livelihoods, security reform, ensuring accountability, and other key recommendations of the Annan Commission.

In addition, Mr. President, the Government of Myanmar’s Memoranda of Understanding with UNHCR and UNDP expire in June. It is imperative that the work streams outlined in these documents are implemented. The international community is willing to help, but must be allowed to do so with unhindered humanitarian, media, and NGO access.

We urge Myanmar to play a constructive role in resolving this crisis, including by ensuring accountability for those responsible for human rights violations and abuses.

The United States supports the multiple efforts and mechanisms at the UN to foster accountability for human rights abuses in Myanmar, including in northern Rakhine State. In addition to the Special Envoy’s role, we strongly support the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

We have monitored the expeditious operationalization of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, whose mandate is to collect, consolidate, preserve, and analyze evidence of the most serious crimes. In addition, we have also called upon the authorities in Myanmar to resume cooperation with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar. We look forward to working with Member States this year on a General Assembly resolution that addresses the human rights situation in Myanmar.

For the one million ethnic Rohingya who fled the violence to Bangladesh, the situation is urgent.

We applaud Bangladesh’s generosity in continuing to host one million Rohingya refugees, and we’ll continue to seek creative ways to increase access to education, livelihoods, and durable shelters for Rohingya refugees, while maintaining pressure on Myanmar to create the conditions necessary for voluntary repatriation.

The international community cannot ignore the world’s largest refugee camp. We can and must take steps to effect change on the ground and to resolve this humanitarian crisis.

Again, Special Envoy Burgener, we thank you for your briefing, and we look forward to further discussions on these issues. We sincerely hope the democratic reforms and humanitarian efforts the United States has supported in Myanmar will ultimately result in a peaceful, successful civil society, and a new beginning for all the people of Myanmar.

I thank you.