23 May 2024

After several months of vacancy, former Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop has been appointed by the UN Secretary General as the UN special envoy on Myanmar.

She will be the third woman to serve in this position, following in the footsteps of Christine Schraner Burgener of Switzerland who served from April 2018 to October 2021 and Singaporean Noeleen Heyzer, whose tenure ran from October 2021 to November 2023.

Bishop’s appointment was announced weeks after the Asean special envoy on Myanmar, Alounkeo Kittikhoun, briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in Myanmar in early February. He urged the UN Secretary General Antonio Guteres to appoint a special envoy to succeed Heyzer.

Bishop’s appointment comes at the most critical time due to the fast-changing security environments inside Myanmar between the Tatmadaw and the resistance forces.

Since October last year, the resistance forces, alliances of various armed ethnic groups, have increased their attacks and gained control of nearly 60 townships throughout the country.

At the end of January, Naypyidaw decided to send a non-political officer to attend the Asean foreign ministerial retreat, marking the first time in almost three years that the regime participated in an Asean meeting.

After the coup on February 1, 2021, Asean banned senior Myanmar officials from attending major Asean meetings.

At the April summit in Jakarta 2021, the Five Point Consensus was adopted by the Asean leaders as a pathway to resolve the conflict in Myanmar.

As the conflict enters its fourth year, there has been only little progress in the peace process. Recently, Thailand and Myanmar organized a bilateral humanitarian assistance programme for 20,000 affected villagers inside Myanmar.

Over the past years, the previous UN envoys have been unable to do much because of limited access to as well as cooperation by the regime in Naypyidaw.

According to UN press release, throughout her career, Bishop has strengthened engagement with regional partners and led international negotiation efforts, including the first-ever United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

It is hoped that Bishop will be able to make progress on the UN’s role in resolving the Myanmar crisis.

In 2017, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on Myanmar mandating a position to work in close partnership with all stakeholders including Asean, regional countries and UN members.

In the coming days, Bishop will have the opportunity to meet up with her former Asean counterparts to get updates on the latest situation in Myanmar and the ongoing Asean efforts to implement the peace process.

She will have an insurmountable task in implementing the UN mandate and coordinating with the Asean efforts to bring peace to Myanmar.