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Research Report

A Good Office?: Twenty Years of UN Mediation in Myanmar

Anna Magnusson
Morten B. Pedersen
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2012
Pages: 132

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. i-ii)
  2. (pp. iii-iv)
  3. (pp. v-vi)
  4. (pp. vii-viii)
  5. (pp. 1-3)

    The UN Secretary-General’s good offices on Myanmar, now in their twentieth year, have been one of the longest such diplomatic efforts in the history of the world organization. The mandate derives from the General Assembly, which since 1993 has been requesting “the assistance of the Secretary-General” in implementing its annual resolutions on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. Since a special rapporteur was already in place at that time, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali defined his role as one of “good offices” rather than fact-finding, a decision that has remained unchallenged.¹ An informal 1994 framework agreement with the Myanmar government listed...

  6. (pp. 4-13)

    In the late 1980s, Myanmar seemed to be finally emerging from decades of military dictatorship, civil war, and self-imposed isolation. Former General Ne Win had retired after ruling the country since 1962. The first ceasefires were signed with ex–Communist Party of Burma militias in 1989, and others were soon to follow with promises of further talks toward a lasting peace.¹

    In an acknowledgement of the failure of “the Burmese way to socialism,” the government was embarking on market-oriented economic reforms and opening up the country for outside aid, trade, investment, and tourism. The country was also seemingly moving toward...

  7. (pp. 14-31)

    Alvaro de Soto, a Peruvian diplomat and long time UN staffer who had been brought into the Secretariat by his compatriot Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar in 1982, came with a wealth of experience in dealing with military juntas. By the time he was appointed Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs in 1994 (responsible for the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific), he was an accomplished mediator having brokered peace accords that brought an end to decade-long civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, as Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s personal representative for the Central American peace process. He was probably as prepared...

  8. (pp. 32-49)

    After many names and nationalities had been discussed at the UN, the choice of a new envoy fell on Razali Ismail, a Malaysian career diplomat who had just recently retired from the foreign service to focus on business and board meetings back in Malaysia. As former Malaysian permanent representative to the UN and president of the General Assembly, he knew the UN inside-out. Moreover, he came with the strong support of Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, who was credited with engineering Malaysia’s rapid modernization and economic growth. A vocal advocate of Asian values, it is easy to imagine that Mahathir...

  9. (pp. 50-73)

    Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, a Nigerian scholar and diplomat, was the next UN high-ranking official to accept the Myanmar portfolio. In contrast to 2000, when Razali took over, Gambari’s appointment was not preceded by months of pondering by member states. Neither does the appointment appear to have been part of any grand strategy. The Myanmar portfolio simply landed in Gambari’s lap after he became the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, succeeding Sir Kieran Prendergast of the UK in June 2005. Up until then Gambari had served Kofi Annan as Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa for five years. His academic training and...

  10. (pp. 74-82)

    Following the strained visit by the Secretary-General in July 2009, which did not match the expectations of the forward movement achieved during his first visit, there was not much UN appetite for political engagement with Myanmar’s military government. Yet the General Assembly mandate remained in place, and no member states were willing to accept a pause in the good-offices process (perhaps because it would have put pressure on the member states to do more). With no way out, the poisoned chalice was passed on to another highlevel UN official, Ban Ki-moon’s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar. Nambiar had served as...

  11. (pp. 83-101)

    This study has chronicled and narrated the UN’s good offices effort in Myanmar as told through the lens of those most involved. It is largely limited to the UN side of the story and in no way pretends to be a comprehensive or definitive history of the mediation effort in Myanmar. While limited in scope, the recurring themes, various approaches tested, and shortcomings observed do allow some important conclusions to be made and lessons to be drawn. The following analysis refers primarily to the time prior to the transfer of power from the SPDC to a quasi-civilian government in March...

  12. (pp. 102-116)
  13. (pp. 117-121)
  14. (pp. 122-122)