Tue 26 Jul 2011
Filed under: Opinion,Other
As many people in Europe prepare for their summer holidays, behind the scenes discussions will soon start between European governments about the contents of the next UN General Assembly Resolution on Burma, even though it probably will not be voted on until December.
The reason for starting so early, and why they are so important this year, is that the EU, which drafts the resolution, has to decide whether or not to include the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Southeast Asian nation.
Given the situation in Burma, past and present, and the fact that the dictatorship has ignored 20 previous resolutions calling for an end to abuses, to simply set up an inquiry to establish the truth about what is taking place should not be controversial.
But it is. Countries like Germany and Italy are opposing the EU including an inquiry in the resolution. They don’t do so publicly, how could they? It’s a shameful position for them to hold, and indefensible.
There have been 20 General Assembly Resolutions on Burma calling for human rights to be respected, all of them ignored by the regime. For 19 years the General Assembly has called on the junta to respect international law, yet violations are increasing, not decreasing.
There have been 18 requests for the administration to investigate abuses. The regime has not only ignored these, it added a clause to the constitution granting all members of the military immunity for crimes committed.
UN General Assembly Resolutions on Burma have described at least 15 different kinds of human rights violations which could be classified as war crimes or crimes against humanity.
In 2010 it looked as if, after 20 years, the patience of the General Assembly was finally wearing out. The Resolution on Burma, passed on Dec. 24, stated that UN members: “Expresses grave concern at the continuing practice of arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and urges the government of [Burma] to undertake without further delay a full, transparent, effective, impartial and independent investigation into all reports of human rights violations, and to bring to justice those responsible in order to end impunity for violations of human rights, and, regretting that previous calls to that effect have not been heeded, calls on the government to do so as a matter of priority and, if necessary, drawing on the assistance of the United Nations.”
Given this clear acknowledgement that past resolutions have been ignored, and serious abuses were taking place, surely it would be inconceivable for the General Assembly to pass yet another resolution on Burma which it knows will be ignored, and not take practical action in response.
In addition, with the dictatorship breaking ceasefire agreements and a massive increase in abuses such as gang-rape, arbitrary executions, slave labour and mortar-bombing of civilian villages, the case for an inquiry is stronger than ever before.
But the willingness of countries like Germany to overlook the seriousness of human rights abuses when there are profits to be made for their companies, and the willingness of other EU members such as Sweden to delude themselves that Burma’s new president might be a secret moderate, despite all evidence pointing to the opposite being true, should not be underestimated.
This is what is happening in the EU today. Despite ethnic women and children being gang-raped in Burma on a daily basis, the EU acts like the three wise monkeys. They see no evil, hear no evil, and don’t talk about the evil.
Despite abuses taking place on a scale and of equal seriousness as occurred in some countries in the Middle East, the EU has stayed silent. This is unacceptable. Their silence is not neutral, it is interpreted by the Burmese regime as acceptance of their acts, a green light to continue their abuses. Their silence is complicity.
Twenty UN General Assembly Resolutions on Burma have not led to any improvement in human rights in my country. However, a Resolution that sets up a Commission of Inquiry would have an impact. The mere establishment of an investigation, and the scrutiny and attention it would bring, would very likely result in a reduction in human rights abuses. The regime does not want the world to know what it is doing to the people, this is why it bans foreign journalists.
I have met with governments across Europe to ask them to take action to help my people. Over and over again I have been told how they are powerless to make a difference, that they have done all that they can. But now they have a chance to act, and in a way which could save lives.
They can include a Commission of Inquiry in the next General Assembly Resolution on Burma.
An Inquiry will not stop all abuses, or even most abuses, but it will stop some abuses, and if that means one less 12-year-old girl being raped in front of her mother, and one more child who does not have to watch his father being shot by a soldier, then it is an action worth taking.
By early September the EU is likely to have made what will, for some people in Burma, literally be a life or death decision. I hope European diplomats and politicians will remember that it is real lives and real people we are talking about. If they decide to “wait and see” again, what we will see is more death and more rapes.
Zoya Phan is campaigns manager at Burma Campaign UK. Her autobiography is published as Undaunted in the USA, and Little Daughter across the rest of the world.