Thu 28 Sep 2006
Filed under: News,Opinion,Other
Having placed the case of Burma’s military junta on the formal agenda of the Security Council earlier this month, the United Nations now has an opportunity to show that it can be something more than an impotent debating club. If in the waning days of his tenure UN Secretary General Kofi Annan exercises the right combination of firmness and finesse with Burma’s military dictators, he can help protect human rights, democracy, and regional security in Asia.
Unlike the coercive measures contemplated to cope with Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons or genocide in Darfur, the UN is not being asked to dispatch armed peacekeepers to Burma or to impose risky economic sanctions on the narco-dictatorship there. Rather, moral suasion and diplomatic pressure are the means for dealing with the junta’s violations of human rights and its threats to regional peace and security — threats manifest in the export of heroin, methamphetamine, HIV/AIDS, and the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the military’s brutal assaults on ethnic minorities.
Annan must be careful, however, in the way he exerts the UN’s soft power.
Last May, he sent UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, to Burma, where he met with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi as well as junta leaders. At the time, Gambari said he thought the junta bosses were “ready to turn a new page.” But Gambari and Annan looked gullible soon after, when the junta extended Suu Kyi’s house arrest for another year and intensified its campaign of ethnic cleansing, rape, and murder in the region inhabited by 2 million people of the Karen ethnic group.
Annan shouldn’t allow Gambari to undertake a return trip to Burma without a Security Council resolution that spells out clear and reasonable demands for the true turning of a new page. That should include the release of all 1,100 political prisoners in Burma, including Suu Kyi and fellow leaders of the National League for Democracy, the party that won 82 percent of Parliamentary seats in a 1990 election that the junta has refused to honor ever since.
The NLD, which commemorates the anniversary of its 1988 founding on Sept. 27, must be invited along with other parties and representatives of Burma’s ethnic nationalities to participate in a genuine political dialogue. The resolution Gambari takes to Burma should specify that such a dialogue means working out terms for an agreement on a return to democracy. That resolution should also require the junta to end its attacks on ethnic minorities and to permit international aid organizations to have unimpeded access to all those in need within Burma. Nearly all the people of Burma need the world’s help.