UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appointed Christine Schraner Burgener, a Swiss diplomat with conflict resolution experience in Southeast Asia, as his special envoy for Myanmar. Since Indian diplomat Vijay Nambiar left the position of Secretary-General’s special adviser on Myanmar at the end of 2016 when Ban ki-Moon completed his term as UN head, the world body has not had a top-level pointsperson on Myanmar even as India’s neighbour spiralled into a deepening ethnic conflict spawning a refugee crisis.
Burgener’s appointment was announced Thursday by Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for Guterres, on the eve of the Security Council’s visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh to study the Rohingya crisis. Guterres has been under pressure to appoint a special envoy and the General Assembly even passed a resolution in December urging him make the appointment.
Burgener “led efforts to mediate between the two sides in the violence that erupted in Thailand in 2010” while she was the Swiss ambassador in Bangkok, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for Guterres said Thursday. More than 80 people were killed in 2010 in Thailand during two months of confrontation between the military and the opposition demanding elections.
Burgener has a family connection to Myanmar: Her husband Christoph Burgener was Switzerland’s ambassador to Myanmar while she was the envoy in Bangkok. A career diplomat, she is currently the Switzerland’s envoy to Germany and Dujarric said she will join the UN full-time.
The UN has had a contentious relationship with Myanmar, which has been criticised by the Security Council and the General Assembly as well officials for its treatment of the Rohingya minority.
Over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August when attacks on security posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army was met with wholesale retribution by the Myanmar military and civilian vigilantes. Guterres has likened the conditions that led to the exodus of the Rohingyas to ethnic cleansing.
In January, Myanmar blocked UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee from visiting the country to study the state of human rights. Asked about getting the military dominated government there to agree to Burgener’s appointment, Dujarric said, “The authorities in Myanmar were consulted, as others in the region were.”
The UN withdrew its resident coordinator in Myanmar, Renata Lok-Dessallien of Canada, in October amid allegations she did not give priority to human rights issues. Knut Ostby of Norway was appointed to succeed her. Nambiar, who was a member of the Indian Foreign Service, served as Ban’s chef de cabinet before his appointment as the special adviser on Myanmar.