UN reshuffles Myanmar team described in memo as “glaringly dysfunctional”

By: Will Feuer - Posted on: June 13, 2017 | Current Affairs

The UN has removed their top official in Myanmar, a country plagued by ethnic violence and religious tension, reportedly due to a failure to prioritize human rights, especially of marginalised minorities such as the Rohingya

Renata Lok-Dessallien, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Myanmar in Rakhine State, western Myanmar, 03 November 2016.
Renata Lok-Dessallien, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Myanmar in Rakhine State, western Myanmar, 03 November 2016. Photo: EPA/Nyunt Win

The UN’s regional and humanitarian coordinator for Myanmar, Renata Lok-Dessallien, was removed from her position today partly for failing to prioritise human rights, according to anonymous diplomatic and aid community sources in Yangon cited by the BBC.

Although Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is now the country’s de facto leader, the government has been unable to rein in a military accused of killing, raping and even carrying out genocide against Rohingya. The government has also made little progress in peace talks with ethnic minority militias that have long been fighting against the army.

Suu Kyi has disappointed many in the international community for failing to speak up for the Rohingya, among the most persecuted people on earth. She has said that human rights groups are overstating the situation in Rakhine state although tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled the area in recent months.

The UN’s Myanmar team, like Suu Kyi, has remained largely silent on the issue. An internal document prepared for the new UN secretary general describes the team as “glaringly dysfunctional” with “strong tensions” between different agencies.

Matthew Smith, the head of Southeast Asia-based human rights group Fortify Rights, said that his organization has been concerned about the UN’s leadership in Myanmar for several years. “The wrong so-called experts were appointed to deal with complex human rights problems. And that’s the tip of the iceberg,” Smith wrote to Southeast Asia Globe in an email.

Lok-Dessallien has reportedly denied basic requests for information on developing situations in Myanmar. After being one of few officials granted access to the Rakhine State, Lok-Dessallien refused request to record her comments on the trip.

“Unfortunately this decision is long overdue,” Smith said. “The Resident Coordinator prioritized development over human rights as if the two were not interconnected. It was a confused approach. We’ve heard consistent complaints from within the UN that the Resident Coordinator was not only failing to prioritise human rights, but was actively undermining those who were focusing on rights.”

Lok-Dessallien is now on leave, but a UN spokeswoman told the BBC that she is being “rotated” and that the decision was not related to her performance, which has been “consistently appreciated.”