An interview with Myanmar's UN Ambassador who defied the junta

U Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations, gives the three-finger salute to show solidarity with the anti-regime movement in the country while addressing the General Assembly on Feb. 26, 2021. Photo from the United Nations and caption from The Irrawaddy

This article was originally published in The Irrawaddy, an independent news website in Myanmar. This edited version is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, U Kyaw Moe Tun, and two ministers from the parallel National Unity Government (NUG) met Derek Chollet, a senior member of the US Department of State on September 23, 2021.

Myanmar’s military regime has accused U Kyaw Moe Tun of high treason, asked the UN to hand him over and hopes to replace him with Colonel Aung Thurein.

The Irrawaddy asked U Kyaw Moe Tun why he did not address the UN General Assembly and about his discussion with Chollet, a counselor at the department and a senior policy advisor to the US secretary of state.

The Irrawaddy: What did you discuss with the US counselor?

U Kyaw Moe Tun Deputy foreign minister U Moe Zaw Oo and I met him last Thursday [September 23] in New York. NUG ministers Daw Zin Mar Aung, U Aung Myo Min and advisor to the NUG’s Human Rights Ministry U Aung Zaw Moe joined the meeting online. The US Department of State released a statement about it. The Burmese side explained the situation on the ground, including human rights violations by the military. We also discussed humanitarian aid, COVID-19 prevention and the provision of COVID-19 vaccines. As the US is planning to provide COVID-19 vaccines to Myanmar it was on the agenda. We also discussed US assistance in establishing democracy in Myanmar.

Was the meeting a signal the US government has recognized the NUG as the legitimate government of Myanmar?

U Kyaw Moe Tun: The US has not officially recognized the NUG. But as it is officially holding bilateral talks with the NUG we can say that it is beginning to recognize the NUG. The US statement also expressed support for the NUG, so we don’t need to explain further.

China, Russia and ASEAN agreed to keep you as the ambassador to the UN until November. Why have countries with close ties to the military regime agreed to that?

U Kyaw Moe Tun: It is difficult for me to say. As everyone knows, almost no UN members have recognized the military council. Though the military council dismissed me, the UN and member states recognize me as the permanent representative. I think most countries want to maintain continuity. The UN is an inter-governmental organization and decisions are made by consensus. So it was decided by consensus to keep me. The credentials committee tries to avoid discord between member states. It recommends what is generally acceptable to all members. The credentials committee, I understand, has had informal meetings with member countries about my case.

As ASEAN, the European Union, US and UK reached an agreement, other countries have also agreed to keep me in my position. So my guess is they accepted it because it was acceptable to members. The credentials committee will have a formal meeting in November and review the issue and report to the General Assembly.

There were reports that the UN and China agreed to keep you until November on the condition you do not address the General Assembly. What will be the consequences of not addressing the General Assembly?

U Kyaw Moe Tun:  The General Assembly is not a week-long meeting. It started on September 14 and continues until September 2022. There will be plenary sessions throughout the year. The six standing committees will meet simultaneously for the rest of this year. Our delegation will be able to speak at the plenary sessions and standing committees. We agreed [not to address the general debate] to best serve our country in the long term.

So you will address later meetings?

U Kyaw Moe Tun: There is the disarmament and international security committee, economic and financial committee, social, humanitarian and cultural committee, political and decolonization committee, administrative and budgetary committee and legal committee. We have opportunities to address those meetings about the situation in Myanmar. We believe we will convey the voices of Myanmar’s people through those channels.

We heard it will not be decided until December whether you keep your position or not. What will happen if the UN refuses to recognize either you or the military appointee until next September?

U Kyaw Moe Tun:  My understanding is that there will be a meeting in November [to discuss Myanmar’s representation]. The credentials committee has used the word “continuity”, so I understand I will remain in my position for the 76th session. I am not sure about how they will decide but what was agreed at the 75th session will probably be continued throughout the year.

If the UN recognizes the junta, will the regime enjoy impunity for its human rights violations and international crimes?

U Kyaw Moe Tun: From what we can see, Myanmar’s people and the international community are vocal in their opposition to the military council. It does not receive international recognition. [Junta recognition] is unlikely considering the provisions in the UN Charter and the global commitment to democracy and human rights. For example, all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals call for humanitarian perspectives. So it will be ridiculous if human rights cannot be protected in the real world while every country is underscoring human rights. So I believe it will not happen. If it happened it would bring a review of the UN. The UN says it always heeds people’s voices so we firmly believe it won’t ignore us.

The UK government has expressed concerns about the NUG’s declaration of a people’s war against Myanmar’s military. Has the UK discussed its concerns with you?

U Kyaw Moe Tun:  There has been no direct discussion with me. Some countries have expressed concerns. We understand the concerns. We also have concerns about anything that can be harmful to the people. But the military brutally cracked down on peaceful, unarmed protesters. We have continuously asked the international community to intervene against the military. But they have responded with neutral statements. And some countries imposed sanctions.

We are grateful but our people have gone through violence and inhumane repression for months and suffer greatly. Many are suffering from mental trauma.

As you know young activists jumped from a building [in Yangon] to avoid capture by junta troops. Not everyone can take similar action. They jumped because they would rather die than be captured. There were widespread calls to fight the regime. We have to listen to the people. We have to resist for our safety. The international community must understand what we are going through. When there is a confrontation between the armed and unarmed, the unarmed suffer more. We have to fight when we can no longer take it.

We want it to end and we have to strengthen the forces inside the country with greater unity and accelerate the momentum. We need international support to increase that momentum. We can end the suffering if the military faces domestic and international pressure.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.