The UN commissioned and then “suppressed” a report that criticised its strategy in Myanmar and warned it was ill-prepared to deal with the impending Rohingya crisis, sources have told the Guardian.
The review, written by a consultant and submitted in May, offered a highly critical analysis of the UN’s approach and said there should be “no silence on human rights”.
The report, entitled The Role of the United Nations in Rakhine state, was commissioned by Renata Lok-Dessallien, the UN resident coordinator and the organisation’s most senior figure in Myanmar. It made 16 recommendations. The report’s author Richard Horsey outlined the need for new staff positions and “frank” discussions with government, and called for the report to be widely distributed among aid agencies.
A source close to events, who asked not to be named, said the paper was “spiked” and not circulated among UN and aid agencies “because Renata Lok-Dessallien didn’t like the analysis”.
“It was given to Renata and she didn’t distribute it further because she wasn’t happy with it,” said another well-placed source.
The report, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, accurately predicted a “serious deterioration” in the six months following its submission and urged the UN to undertake “serious contingency planning”.
“It is recommended that, as a matter of urgency, UN headquarters identifies ways to improve overall coherence in the UN’s system approach,” wrote independent analyst Horsey.
Security forces would be “heavy-handed and indiscriminate” in dealing with the Rohingya, said Horsey – a prediction that rang true when Rohingya militants attacked dozens of outposts on August 25, prompting a massive military crackdown.
In little more than a month, more than half a million Rohingya have fled over the border to Bangladesh amid allegations of massacres by Myanmar’s armed forces and Rohingya insurgents.
The 28-page document said its author would be expected to provide feedback to the UN’s humanitarian country team, a group consisting of UN agencies such as the World Food Programme and the UN refugee agency as well as other aid groups such as Save the Children. However, the meeting never took place.
The final report was “shared with some senior officials”, said the representative, who declined to identify the individuals concerned. Sources in Myanmar said the report was “mentioned at meetings on two occasions” before it “disappeared off the agenda”. No one was able to access the document subsequently.
Meanwhile, Renata faces fresh charges that she undermined attempts to publicly promote the rights of the Rohingya, the stateless Muslim minority. Aid workers said the UN prioritised good relations with the Myanmar government over humanitarian and human rights advocacy.
Renata, during an earlier posting in Bangladesh as the Resident Coordinator, had been accused of engineering the January 11, 2007, political changeover, when an army-backed caretaker government took over power and declared a state of emergency.
The Guardian approached Horsey, the author of the report, for comment. “The UN knew, or should have known, that the status quo in Rakhine was likely to evolve into a major crisis,” he said in an emailed response.
His report said senior UN figures in New York had sent “mixed messages” and there was no replacement special adviser to the secretary general, a high-level UN official with “diplomatic clout”, leaving the resident coordinator in an impossible position.