UN Spokesperson answers YOUR questions!

Rupert Colville Expert UN

Hi Burnet News Club, my name is Rupert Colville and I am the main Spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; that's the bit of the UN that is most responsible for human rights issues. I have been doing this job for ten years and have lots of experience of being the spokesperson for major emergencies and conflicts around the world.
You can see me giving press briefings and interviews by searching my name on YouTube. Last year a couple of these videos that were about President Trump and Gaza went viral on Facebook.

Q) Has the UN made an impact yet?
From extraordinary_thought at Michael Faraday School

A) Good question! There is sometimes scepticism about whether the UN has an impact. But, in this case, it is definitely having some. In fact just one hour before I began writing this reply to you, an important group of 47 countries, called the UN Human Rights Council agreed on a Resolution (a written agreement) to take a number of actions. Most important of these is setting up a special new organization to take the evidence already available in UN reports (including ours) – and elsewhere – and start building detailed criminal cases against certain individuals in Myanmar (especially the top generals responsible for arranging the killing and harming of lots and lots of people, including children). So this is a big step forward to actually getting some of these people into prison one day. They can only be convicted in a court, but having the evidence collected and carefully sorted out in advance, as well as the legal reasoning about WHY they should be found guilty, will be a very big advantage when some of these people one day end up in front of judges in a court. This is only the second time in history that such an organization has been created – the other one was created two years ago to do the same thing for Syria, which is the other country where truly dreadful things have been done, and are still being done, by soldiers, policemen, violent extremists and others against hundreds of thousands of ordinary people.

The other way the UN has had an impact – especially my organization and something called the Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar – was by very loudly and publicly saying what was happening while it was happening and investigating it in detail as soon as we could.


Two questions from fantastic_duck at Faringdon Community College:

Q1) Is not doing anything a crime (is Aung San Suu Kyi not doing anything something punishable by law?), or is it only a crime if you contribute to the violence?

A) That’s quite a difficult question. Under international law, the answer is no. She could maybe be charged for “aiding and abetting” – i.e. actually helping the crime be committed in some way, if it turns out she did. But not for NOT doing something to stop it. But my boss, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has publicly criticized her for not at least speaking out to try to stop her army committing the awful crimes in Myanmar, and even worse for denying those crimes even took place. And being so publicly and so strongly criticized by a top UN official like him is very bad for a leader like her because it was all over the news, and adds to the stain on her reputation. It can be different under national law – in some countries (maybe yours), it can be a crime simply to know another crime is taking place and failing to report it.

Q2) Should we, and would we, ever intervene and help the Rohingya, especially if the situation got worse?

A) We could. Occasionally, in the past, international forces have intervened in places where really bad things were happening, for example in Bosnia or Kosovo or Sierra Leone. In all those three cases, they probably saved a lot of people by doing so. But countries are very wary about intervening in other countries. Generally this is a good thing, as we don’t want more wars. In 2005, all the world’s governments did agree to an idea called “the Responsibility to Protect.” This includes the possibility of intervening militarily to prevent the most serious “atrocity crimes” from taking place. But only if the Security Council agrees – and the Security Council almost never agrees to do this.

The UN is also helping look after the 750,000 or more Rohingyas who fled to the next door country, Bangladesh to avoid being killed. They’re living in very difficult conditions in refugee camps and need all the help they can get.

Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations


Q) I'd like to know why Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to become the State Counselor of Myanmar if she has a criminal record behind her (15 years of home arrest)?
From honorable_bilberry at Portobello High School

A) The 15 years of house arrest were simply for her politics and most people outside Myanmar agreed that was unfair, and that she hadn’t committed any crime at all. In fact she won the Nobel Peace Prize – probably the most famous and important prize there is – for her peaceful opposition to the ruthless military government that ruled Myanmar for a long time. When she was finally released, she was a huge hero at home and all across the world. That was all before the recent events involving the Rohingya. Now, ironically, as State Counsellor, she seems to be defending the same military for something much worse – the slaughter and persecution of hundreds of thousands of people simply because of the group they belong to. She is being accused of being very brave and open-minded and in favour of human rights when the story was all about her, and not at all open-minded or interested in human rights when the story is all about the treatment of a huge group of people she doesn’t care for. It has been said of her that there is almost no other case where someone’s reputation “has fallen so far so fast.”


Q) How are the UN discussing and trying to help the situation ?
From valuable_moth at Michael Faraday School

A) Well, the recent report by the UN Fact-Finding Mission I mentioned in the first answer has had a very big impact and is being discussed a lot by governments and other important people all over the world. It is huge: 444 pages describing lots and lots of really dreadful things that the Myanmar military and police and some other people have done to the Rohingya. Lots of really horrible details. I don’t want to give you nightmares by describing them. It has shocked almost everyone. Its most important message is that the people responsible for all this must be tried and sent to prison some day. The report even named six generals, including the Commander-in-Chief, who the Fact-Finding Mission said should be put on trial. This is clearly worrying for the generals as they now risk being arrested if they ever step foot outside of Myanmar. It also puts a lot of pressure on them not to continue killing people: they now realize they may not get away with it, that they are being closely watched and evidence is being painstakingly gathered to help convict them one day. The UN is also helping look after the 750,000 or more Rohingyas who fled to the next door country, Bangladesh to avoid being killed. They’re living in very difficult conditions in refugee camps and need all the help they can get.

Comments (10)

  • Tiff-Avatar.jpg Tiff @ the BNC 2 months ago

    Right BNC members!

    Rupert Colville has included lots of fantastic information here and his position means he is very knowledgeable about this issue. I've got some questions here and we'd like you to use information from this post to help answer them.

    1) Can you summarise what the UN has been doing about this crisis?
    2) Do you think the UN is doing enough?
    3) What difficulties does the UN face when dealing with a crisis?

    Reply to this comment
  • Michael-Faraday-logo-250x250.jpg cheerful_leaves 2 months ago in reply to Tiff @ the BNC's comment

    2) I don't think that the UN has done enough about the rohyinga crisis because as to what I have seen they haven't really got in deep depth about the situation and come together with Aung Sang Suu Kyi and had a proper discussion which concerns me if they really care about these innocent Muslims being attacked for their race and religion.

    Reply to this comment
  • Ravenscroft-logo-250x250.jpg communicative_bird 2 months ago

    1) To summarise the UN has been doing everything in their power to help with the Rohingya Crisis but haven't yet been able to do much because there isn't enough evidence so they don't want to make false accusations
    2)I personally believe that they aren't doing enough because they haven't made enough impact in Bangladesh to help the refugee camps
    3)The difficulties the UN face are:
    Fairness - Is this fair on everybody?
    Pros & Cons - Even though it may be good, what may be bad about it?
    Effect - What effect may it have on other people?

    Reply to this comment
  • Beverley-St-Nicholas-logo-250x250.jpg consistent_wolf 2 months ago

    I don’t think the UN has done much about the Rohingya people because they are still all upset😪 and having to move out there own 🏠 and I don’t think they should have to do that because if we don’t have to move out of are house, I don’t think they should move out of there’s because they also have the right to say no if they don’t want to move and if they do want to move they can, they should be free to do what they want to as long as it is not anything like murder, terrisiom and anything like that.

    Reply to this comment
  • Michael-Faraday-logo-250x250.jpg extraordinary_thought 2 months ago

    I think that the UN should start a charity to help vulnerable people who are in the same trouble as the Rohingya so that they'd have enough money to provide for their families and if that works they might be able to use the same strategy to support Bangladesh so that they'd become a less poor country.

    Reply to this comment
  • Crampton-logo-250x250.jpg encouraging_road 2 months ago in reply to Tiff @ the BNC's comment

    1) The UN has been doing three main things to try and help the Rohingya. One of them is analysing information and building up files with evidence to use against the military leaders in a court. The UN has also been trying to draw attention to the crisis by talking about it "loudly and publicly". Finally the UN has been helping the refugees in Bangladesh.
    2) It's good to hear what the UN are doing but I do not think it's enough. For example the Fact Finding Mission is trying to bring down the military leaders but it is going to take too long. It is clear to me that there are more things that the UN could do, they could get more countries to help with the refugees and they could also try to get a Security Council resolution for military intervention.
    3) The difficulty is getting all the countries to agree and being sure what the best action is. The "Responsibility to Protect" is a great idea that everyone agrees but they don't know how to protect everyone. If they did all agree on military intervention a war could be really bad and cause even more suffering and cost even more lives.

    Reply to this comment
  • Olivia-Avatar.jpg Olivia @ the BNC 2 months ago in reply to encouraging_road's comment

    Well done for reading this post closely and for answering the questions! I have given you a star for the curiosity you have shown!

    Reply to this comment
  • Michael-Faraday-logo-250x250.jpg noble_crab 1 month ago

    What can you and the UN do to help and is this situation going to get better?

    Reply to this comment
  • Weston-Favell-logo-250x250.jpg methodical_engine 1 month ago

    1) how can we trust this as they could have made something close to the truth and they might be keeping something back .
    2) I can't trust it as it has no video footage and the photo up at the top could be from the internet ( just something I wanted to let you guys know )

    Reply to this comment
  • Weston-Favell-logo-250x250.jpg methodical_engine 1 month ago

    1) they have watched and they have reported what's going on to back up Myanmar's leader ang san suu chi.
    2) its impressive how much he has to say about this but I think the UN are doing less than I would expect because they are just reporting what's going on and they're not getting in and helping Myanmar by telling the government to stop
    3) the difficulties they are facing are
    . they are having to sort little bits of this issue out
    . people are asking for more information
    . there not much relaxing time for them and their families

    Reply to this comment

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