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Burma: Member States of the UN must intervene

As we upload this issue of ACHR WEEKLY REVIEW, reports have been pouring in that the Burmese soldiers today used baton and tear gas against the Buddhist monks and civilian protesters at Shwedagon pagoda, the holiest Buddhist place in Rangoon. Some of the demonstrators were reportedly beaten up while hundreds were arrested and taken away in trucks. At least one Buddhist monk was killed. Large numbers of army and riot police personnel have been deployed around a number of monasteries in Rangoon, Mandalay and other places to prevent protests by the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks.

Members of the European Union and the United States have rightly been making outcry against the repression by the junta. If the European Union, the United States and others are serious about the ongoing repression in Myanmar, they must immediately instruct their Permanent Representatives at the United Nations Offices in New York and Geneva to sponsor resolutions to hold:

 

1)  A special discussion at the ongoing 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly;

 

2)      An emergency session at the United Nations Security Council;

 

3)   A special session at ongoing 6th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

 

The United Nations is not of the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon or High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour as politicians often try to make out. It is the member States of the United Nations or its various bodies who must take decision to address the situation in Myanmar. The failure or unwillingness of the member States to take decisive measures once again must not allowed to be interpretated as the failure of the UN. After all, it is the member States who can take the decisions.

 

I. The uprising of the Buddhist monks

 

Since 5 September 2007, Buddhist monks have been protesting against the military junta. As the security forces used force to disperse around 400 Buddhist monks at Pakokku on 5 September 2007, the monks took to streets in Kyaukpadaung town on 17 September 2007 demanding apology from the military junta for beating up the Buddhist monks. Instead of offering an apology, the military regime used force to break up a protest of about 1,000 monks and civilian demonstrators in Sittwe on 18 September 2007 and arrested at least three or four monks.

 

Soon the protests intensified and spread to other towns and cities. On 21 September 2007, the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks in a statement called the military junta “the enemy of the people” and vowed to continue to hold peaceful protest demonstrations. The monks have refused alms and offerings from anyone connected to the military junta.

 

On 23 September 2007, around 20,000 protestors led by Buddhist monks and nuns took to streets in Rangoon. The protestors demanded reconciliation with the opposition, the release of political prisoners including Ms Suu Kyi and lowering of fuel prices, among others.

 

On 24 September 2007, Brig Gen Thura Myint Maung, the Minister for Religion, warned that the junta would “take action” against the protesting Buddhist monks. Over 100,000 people held protest marches defying the military junta's order. On 25 September 2007, a dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed in Rangoon and Mandalay and on the night of 25 September 2007, two key dissidents - U Win Naing and popular comedian Zaganar were arrested.

 

The situation calls for immediate interventions of the international community.

 

II. Responses of the international community

 

After the Burmese military rulers issued warning to the protestors, the international community, in particular the European Union and the United States, urged the Burmese junta to exercise restraint.

 

On 25 September 2007, the European Union issued a statement threatening to reinforce and strengthen the existing sanctions regime” if the junta used violence against the “unarmed and peaceful demonstrators” and asked the junta to pursue genuine reconciliation and negotiation”.

 

Earlier on 24 September 2007, France warned Burma against crackdown on protesters. Foreign Ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux stated that “The junta will be held accountable before the international community for the security of the protesters” and urged the Burmese authorities to “agree to open the real process of reform and of national reconciliation that the country needs”.

 

On 25 September 2007, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged the EU to consider imposing tougher sanctions if Burma makes “wrong choices” by launching violent crackdown on protestors. He also wrote to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to demand “concerted international action” on Burma and called upon the Burmese authorities to “exercise restraint” and initiate “a process of real political reform”. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called for installment of Aung San Suu Kyi in “her rightful place” as the country's elected leader.

 

The toughest measures came from the United States. On 25 September 2007, U.S. President George Bush announced in the UN General Assembly that the US will tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers and impose an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members. He also urged the United Nations and all UN member states to use their diplomatic and economic leverage to help the Burmese people reclaim their freedom. Earlier, on 24 September 2007, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that the US would step up pressure for the UN Security Council to take action against the military junta.

 

On 25 September 2007, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon while speaking at the General Assembly called on the Burmese authorities “to exercise utmost restraint, to engage without delay in dialogue with all the relevant parties to the national reconciliation process on the issues of concern to the people of Myanmar.”

 

III. Hypocrisy in Asia-Pacific

It is the hypocrisy in Asia-Pacific which endured the military regime in Myanmar. Foreign Minister of Australia, Alexander Downer already made it clear that Australia will not impose economic sanctions on Burma.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has done little to address the present situation. ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong merely stated that ASEAN hoped that “the situation remains peaceful”. The ASEAN failed to issue a public statement condemning the Burmese junta for using force on the peaceful protestors, including the monks.  

IV. India: Long live opportunism

 

As Burma's military junta faced intense pro-democracy protests, the largest democratic country in the world, India was out to show its crude opportunism. On 23 September 2007, India's Petroleum Minister Murli Deora began a visit to Burma to boost energy cooperation. On 24 September 2007, India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh signed a US$ 150 million deal with Burma to explore for gas off the Rakhaine coast of Burma.

 

As the situation further deteiorated, on 26 September 2007 the spokesman of the India's Foreign Ministry sought to make amends. The spokesperson stated, "The government of India is concerned at and is closely monitoring the situation in Myanmar. It is our hope that all sides will resolve their issues peacefully through dialogue. India has always believed that Myanmar's process of political reform and national reconciliation should be more inclusive and broad-based.”

 

In its WEEKLY REVIEW on 22 August 2007, ACHR stated that on 16 August 2007 Burma confirmed to the Reuters that ONGC of India lost the bid to PetroChina to import gas from the A-1 and A-3 blocks off the Rakhine coast of Arakahan in Burma. The two blocks were operated by a joint venture comprising a 60 percent stake from South Korean Daewoo International, a 10 percent interest from Korea Gas Corp, and a combined 30 percent interest from India's state-run GAIL and ONGC Videsh.

Obviously, old habits die hard. India abysmally failed to read Myanmar's relations with China and still expects to get oil from Myanmar. India must go beyond semantics and support pro-democracy movement if it expects to get any oil from Myanmar. It is only democracy, not a regime whose fate hangs in balance, that can ensure fair play even in energy politics.

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