UN Secretary-General appoints S'porean as special envoy to Myanmar

Heyzer has held multiple senior positions at the UN.

Matthias Ang | October 27, 2021, 02:18 PM

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The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, has appointed Singaporean Noeleen Heyzer as the new special envoy to Myanmar, according to a UN press release.

She will succeed Christine Schraner Burgener of Switzerland, who has spent more than three years in the role, Reuters reported.

Has held multiple senior positions at the UN

Heyzer has held multiple senior positions at the UN for than a decade.

According to the press release, this includes being the executive director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) from 1994 to 2007, the first woman to serve as the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific from 2007-2014, and the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser for Timor-Leste from 2013 to 2015.

She also worked closely with Asean, the Myanmar government and the UN, from 2008 to 2009, in recovery efforts following Cyclone Nargis and led a dialogue with Myanmar's leaders on development and poverty reduction.

In addition, she is a member of is a member of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation, a member of the governing board of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), National University of Singapore (NUS), and a distinguished fellow of Singapore Management University (SMU) and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

Malaysia's foreign ministry supports Heyzer

Heyzer's appointment has been welcomed by Malaysia.

In a post put up on Oct. 26, Malaysia's Foreign Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah, said that the country was "deeply concerned" about the humanitarian crisis and impact on regional security, given the insufficient progress with the ground situation.

In pledging Malaysia's support and constructive engagement with Heyzer, Saifuddin said:

"Malaysia believes that Dr. Heyzer, a former senior UN diplomat, would bring considerable expertise and impetus for constructive and meaningful engagement towards a peaceful resolution to the prevailing situation in Myanmar."

What challenges does Heyzer face in her new role?

According to Schraner Burgener, Myanmar has fallen into civil war, with the chance to return to democracy disappearing and the military showing "no interest" in dialogue or compromise, Reuters further reported.

She has since been criticised by the junta for showing a UN bias.

Referring to the junta's administration further, Schraner Burgener added, "The violence will not stop if somebody would accept the SAC (State Administrative Council) as a legal government -- violence will not stop."

She also said that a "real, honest dialogue" was needed among every party, although this can only happen with the replacement of Myanmar military leader Min Aung Hlaing with "somebody who is more constructive".

In an unusual move, he has been excluded from an Asean summit, which began on Oct. 26, on the grounds of failing to take steps in ending hostilities, initiating dialogue, allowing humanitarian support and granting a special envoy full access in the country, The Guardian reported.

A lack of progress on a roadmap to peace which the junta agreed to with Asean in April earlier this year was also cited.

Brunei, the current Asean chair, said that a non-political representative from Myanmar would be invited, although there has been no confirmation yet at the time of the summit's opening.

In response, the military government has blamed "foreign intervention" for the decision, Reuters reported.

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Left photo via Saifuddin Abdullah Facebook, right photo via