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Burma: UN Security Council Must Press for Reforms

Burma: UN Security Council Must Press for Reforms

China, Russia Must Not Block Council Discussion

(New York) – Discussion of Burma in the United Nations Security Council must result in a call for democratic reform and respect for human rights, Human Rights Watch said today. Tomorrow, for the first time, the Council will discuss Burma in a “private meeting” as part of its formal agenda.

Three days before the meeting, Burma’s military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) signaled that it was hardening its position when on September 27 it arrested three prominent student activists – Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, and Htay Kywe – for advocating action by the Security Council.

“The Security Council must act on the human rights situation of a country where violence and repression from the military are an everyday fact of life,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The military doesn’t allow a free press, independent civil society organizations or opposition parties, and it arrests and tortures those who speak out. These are the issues the Council must address.”

With the political support of China, Russia, India and Thailand, the SPDC has become increasingly intransigent. Two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, have repeatedly opposed moves to place Burma on the formal agenda. Both have close commercial relations with the SPDC, including arms sales that enable the Burmese military to commit abuses and stay in power.

Yet the tide of international opinion is turning. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has dropped its cherished “non-interference” policy and has spoken out against the lack of reform and moves toward democracy. The Secretary-General of ASEAN, Ong Keng Yong said in July, “ASEAN has a lot of other things to do. But now Myanmar [Burma] seems to be always there and clouding the other issues out of the way.”

In addition, Indonesia’s foreign minister, Hassan Wirajuda, said in August, “Our view on Myanmar is that it should be more forthcoming in its interaction with its own ASEAN family, otherwise there is nothing much we can do when the United Nations through its Security Council decides to make its own moves on the question of Myanmar.”

“China is increasingly out of step with Burma’s neighbors, which see the Burmese military junta as an embarrassment to ASEAN and want reforms to start immediately,” said Adams. “If China wants to be taken seriously as a respected member of the international community, it needs to stop protecting the Burmese generals who provide neither security nor development for their people.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Security Council to start discussion on a resolution on Burma that requires the SPDC to take immediate steps toward democratic and civilian rule, including free and fair elections. The Council should also insist on the unconditional release of “the Nobel Prize-winning” opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and an estimated 1,200 other political prisoners, and an end to the junta’s brutal military tactics against ethnic minorities in Karen state and elsewhere.

The Security Council should also establish a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate the longstanding dire human rights situation in Burma and the possibility that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed.

Human Rights Watch said that Burma should become a regular topic for discussion on the Council agenda to pressure the SPDC to respect basic freedoms of its citizens and continue to inform Security Council members of its progress. Security Council Resolution 1674 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict states that “peace and security, development and human rights are the pillars of the United Nations and the foundations for collective security.”

“If concrete steps are taken, Council action on Burma could be a strong development after years of General Assembly resolutions that were ignored by the junta,” said Adams. “Burma is a test case to see if the Security Council is serious about the ‘right to protection.’”

Burma remains one of the most repressive countries in Asia, despite promises for political reform and national reconciliation by its authoritarian military government. The SPDC restricts the basic rights and freedoms of all Burmese. It continues to attack and harass the winner of the 1990 elections, the National League of Democracy, and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest.

Burma’s military government continues to commit systematic, widespread and well-documented abuses in ongoing conflicts with ethnic minority rebel groups, including extrajudicial executions, rape, torture, the forced relocation of entire villages, and forced labor. More than half a million people are internally displaced in eastern Burma alone, and more than 250 villages have been destroyed, relocated or abandoned since 2002. Some 2 million Burmese have fled to Thailand, including 145,000 refugees living in camps.

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