United Nations

UN debates end with no one from Myanmar, Afghanistan addressing world leaders

Mara Cepeda
UN debates end with no one from Myanmar, Afghanistan addressing world leaders

HIGH-LEVEL DEBATE. World leaders listen during the General Debate of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2021.

Peter Foley/Pool/Reuters

Diplomats from both countries withdraw their names from the speakers' list amid competing claims over their UN seats

No representatives from Myanmar and Afghanistan, two Asian countries gripped by political turmoil and violence, addressed the world’s biggest diplomatic stage during the 76th United Nations General Assembly. 

Both countries’ sitting ambassadors to the UN were initially scheduled to speak on the last day of the General Debate past 3 am (Manila time) on Tuesday, September 28. 

But the diplomats later withdrew their names amid competing claims over the UN seats of Myanmar and Afghanistan.

Myanmar’s current UN ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, had been appointed by the elected civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, whose administration was deposed in a military coup in February

Kyaw Moe Tun asked to renew his UN accreditation despite being the target of a plot to kill or injure him over his opposition to the military takeover. 

KYAW MOE TUN. Myanmar’s ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun addresses the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 11, 2019. Denis Balibouse/Reuters

He was allowed to retain his seat at the UN for now through an understanding between China, Russia, and the United States. Moscow and Beijing agreed not to object to Kyaw Moe Tun remaining in the UN as long as he does not speak during the high-level debates. 

Western countries have condemned the junta and imposed targeted sanctions, but critics say a tougher stand must be taken, including an arms embargo.

In June, the United Nations General Assembly called for a stop to the flow of arms to Myanmar and appealed for release of political detainees. Southeast Asian countries have led the main diplomatic effort to find a way out of the crisis, but was split over the UN action in June.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet recently called on world leaders to urgently act to stop the “human rights catastrophe” happening under the military rule in Myanmar. 

Bachelet said some of the junta’s violations in Myanmar may amount to war crimes and even crimes against humanity, arguing military authorities are showing no signs of any effort to address the abuses. 

No speaker from Afghanistan, too

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Tuesday that Afghanistan’s current UN ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, also withdrew his name from the speakers’ list over the weekend. 

“It’s not so much of a conversation, as we received a communication from them via email that they wish to be taken out of the speakers’ list. And we did,” Dujarric said. 

FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's U.N. ambassador Ghulam Isaczai addresses the United Nations Security Council
GHULAM ISACZAI. Afghanistan’s UN ambassador Ghulam Isaczai addresses the United Nations Security Council regarding the situation in Afghanistan at the United Nations in New York City on August 16, 2021. Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Like Myanmar’s envoy, Isaczai also moved to renew his accreditation at the UN. He was previously appointed by the government ousted by the Taliban following the US’ hasty withdrawal of its troops in Afghanistan

Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, however, wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying he wanted to speak during the annual high-level meeting of the UNGA

The UN was unable to act on Muttaqi’s request, as accreditation issues in the international organization are dealt with by the nine-member Credentials Committee, whose members include the United States, China, and Russia. The panel traditionally meets in October or November.

Until a decision is made by the credentials committee on both Afghanistan and Myanmar, Isaczai and Kyaw Moe Tun will remain in the seats, according to the General Assembly rules. 

Some Kabul residents have complained of abusive treatment at the hands of Taliban fighters who have appeared on the streets of the capital, often from other regions and unused to big cities.

There have also been reports of reprisals against members of the former government and military or civil society activists, despite promises of an amnesty by the Taliban.

The Taliban’s new defense minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob has since ordered a crackdown on the abuses. – with reports from Reuters/Rappler.com

Rappler multimedia journalist Mara Cepeda is a 2021 fellow of the Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship. She will be virtually covering the 76th United Nations General Assembly, foreign policy, and diplomacy during the program.

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.