Malaysia Laments P-5 UNSC Members Blocking Resolution to Myanmar Conflict

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

By Manik Mehta

NEW YORK: Malaysia made a last-minute – unsuccessful – attempt to get the United Nations Security
Council to pass a resolution against Myanmar at the recently concluded UN General Assembly, but the bid failed to get any meaningful action on the issue.

The response from the UNSC did not go beyond informal expression of “deep concern”, a
routine reaction which, as one ASEAN diplomat privately told the Weekly Echo, “said something
but meant nothing”.

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, lamented in his UN address the lack of
“serious action” by the UNSC to correct the Myanmar situation characterized by a military coup
and overthrow of an elected government on February 1, 2021, with many of the leading politicians, including the Nobel laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi and top figures in her cabinet and party arrested by the coup leaders, and tried on a variety of charges that critics say were fabricated to keep them out of politics.

The Malaysian side blamed the inaction on Myanmar – and other conflicts – not finding a resolution on the misuse of the veto power. Indeed, Sabri was critical of the UNSC which he described as the “biggest problem”.

Saying that it was “very saddening” to see the UNSC not taking any serious steps to deal with the situation in Myanmar, Sabri noted that the Security Council was seen as “having washed its hands off” the Myanmar issue and passing it on to ASEAN.

While many, including Security Council aspirant India, have vehemently opposed the privileged veto power exercised by the “club”, as the group of P5 members is sardonically called, Sabri said that the veto power is “often misused to favour the world powers that have it”.

“It is not democratic and violates the principles of human rights. This makes it impossible for
conflicts to be resolved by any of the permanent members of the Council,” he said.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah (left) during a press conference before the PM’s UN address.

At a press conference held at Malaysia’s UN mission a couple of days before Sabri’s UN address, Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah had told this writer that he expected the resolution to be cleared in the Security Council.

The five permanent Security Council members (P5), China, France, Russia, U.K. and the USA, often use their veto right to block a Security Council resolution in the UNSC, thus prolonging or escalating a conflict and causing irreparable collateral damage to the human population of a particular country. In the case of Myanmar, China and Russia, the two countries, pursuing their narrow self-interests, would have blocked any strong action in the form of binding sanctions against the military junta which has usurped power in Myanmar.

According to human rights groups and independent sources, the military junta has killed more than 2,300 persons since the junta took control and overthrew the elected government last year. One of the most brutal acts committed by Myanmar’s junta was witnessed in a Sagaling village school in which, at least, seven children were killed, raising an outcry in many parts of the world.

Before Sabri’s address, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, had also criticized Myanmar where conditions of its 34 million population had “gone from bad to worse to horrific” following the military usurping power.

ASEAN delegates, including from Malaysia, expressed “deep disappointment” over the Myanmar military regime showing scant respect for the so-called five-point agreement reached with the ASEAN group in April 2021.

The agreement was to serve as a step-by-step plan for Myanmar’s return to democracy; however, Myanmar’s military chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has, so far, not implemented even a single point agreed upon in the five-point consensus.

Sabri did not mince his words when he said that the five-point consensus had made no progress. He spoke of Malaysia’s disappointment over the lack of any “meaningful progress” in the implementation of the ASEAN five-point consensus which, he added, could not continue any longer. He called for giving the consensus a “new lease of life” and revising it with a clearer framework, timeframe and end goal.

“Although it is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol,
Malaysia, on humanitarian grounds, accepted nearly 200,000 Rohingya refugees,” Sabri said.

As Malaysia has accepted nearly 200,000 Rohingya refugees on humanitarian grounds, he called upon parties to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol to accept more refugees.

The world must also address the root cause of the crisis.  He attributed the lack of progress in resolving conflicts and crises to the Security Council as “the debility of the global governance system and the [United Nations].”  Advocating for the abolition of the veto, he explained that it “is most often misused to favour the world powers that have it.  It is not democratic and violates the principles of democracy.”

Besides the Myanmar situation, Sabri also referred to the situation in Ukraine. He welcomed the creation of the sea route corridor and warned against the creation of “isolation blocks strategy”, emphasizing that “that will only push the world towards a cold war”. He also referred to the Palestine issue, expressing disappointment over the denial of basic rights for the Palestinian people and the violation of international law and the UNSC resolution 2334 of 2016, saying “the major powers need to be honest in resolving the issue of cruelty faced by the Palestinian people”. He urged the UN to remedy the crisis with the same speed with which the international community responded to the situation in Ukraine, and called on Israel to stop its apartheid policy.

Pointing to Malaysia’s losses from climate change in 2021, he reminded countries that climate is a universal problem which affects all.  Developed countries must fulfil their annual commitments to provide $100 billion unconditionally. 

He then called for developing countries to have new, fair, inclusive and affordable technology which facilitates their greener and more sustainable socioeconomic development.  Referencing the national measures implemented by Malaysia, he renewed his country’s commitment to environmental conservation and sustainability and welcomed the 2023 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Sabri rounded up his four-day visit by hosting a dinner last night (Saturday) for the Malaysian diaspora in New York.