An independent review of United Nations operations in the years before hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled a violent crackdown by Myanmar's military concluded that the organization's many bodies failed to act together, resulting in "systemic and structural failures."
The 36-page review by Gert Rosenthal, Guatemala's former foreign minister, released Monday said the U.N. could conceivably have reconciled competing views on whether quiet diplomacy or outspoken advocacy against human rights abuses in Myanmar should have been used — but it didn't. The result was a "dysfunctional performance of the U.N. system," Rosenthal said.
The Myanmar government has long been blamed for genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya community in western Rakhine State. The huge exodus of Rohingya began in August 2017 after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts. The scale, organization and ferocity of the operation led to accusations from the international community, including the U.N., of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Rohingya Muslims are the most persecuted minority in the world according to U.N. figures and continue to suffer from oppression under the Myanmar government, the army and Buddhist extremists. Over the past decade, thousands of Rohingya have been killed since violence broke out in 2008, causing hundreds of thousands to flee their homeland for Bangladesh, Malaysia and other countries in the region.
The report says that while "it is difficult to assign responsibility for systemic failures," there is a shared responsibility "on the part of all parties involved" in not "conveying more forcefully the United Nations' principled concerns regarding grave human rights violations." Some of the criticism of the U.N. has focused on allegations that the world body's then-resident coordinator, Renata Lok-Dessallien, downplayed concerns about worsening abuse against the Rohingya in favor of prioritizing economic cooperation with Myanmar's government. The U.N. has denied those claims.
Asked Monday about the report, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said U.N. Secretary-General Guterres has accepted the recommendations "and is committed to implementing them so as to improve the performance of the United Nations system." But Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch, said the U.N. needs to hold accountable "U.N. officials most responsible for ignoring ethnic cleansing in Myanmar." "U.N. ‘lessons-learned' reports about its failure to act in the face of mass atrocities have become almost routine," he said.