Monday, 2 June 2008

Canberra urged to uphold vow to act on Burma crimes

Brendan Nicholson
The Age

BURMESE exiles in Australia are pressing the Federal Government to push for Burma's military junta to be charged in the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity, a move that Labor supported during last year's election campaign.

During that campaign, Burmese activist Myint Cho received a letter from then opposition leader Kevin Rudd recognising the "tremendous courage" of the Burmese protesting against the country's dictatorship.

"International law has been repeatedly violated in Burma and international law should be used in response," Mr Rudd told Dr Cho.

"Labor … also believes it is time to request the UN Security Council to authorise the International Criminal Court to commence investigations into Burma's leaders for crimes against humanity."

The detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for more than a decade, and the prosecution of political opponents, clearly established a case for the regime to answer, Mr Rudd wrote. "The international rule of law … will be rendered meaningless if we leave it on the bookshelves of The Hague instead of activating it in defence of human rights."

But such a prosecution is unlikely. Burma does not recognise the International Criminal Court and charging its leader would require a unanimous decision by members of the United Nations Security Council. China, a Security Council member, is an ally of Burma.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said that international legal action against Burma was not a high priority for Australia or other countries given cyclone Nargis and the continuing humanitarian crisis in the country.

"However, we continue to enforce travel and financial sanctions against specific individuals in the regime as well as making known our strong view about the ongoing detention of Aung San Suu Kyi," Mr Smith said. "Progress toward democracy and respect for human rights in Burma will only happen with the participation of all political players in a genuine, transparent process supported by the international community, including members of the Security Council."

Dr Cho said that Mr Rudd and Labor's former foreign affairs spokesman, Robert McClelland, had both indicated that the junta members should be taken before the international court.

"I strongly believe that the Labor Government should take that kind of promise seriously," he said.

Burma's generals would never listen to international opinion or develop respect for human rights, he said.

"This is the last option to take action against the regime.

"We need International Criminal Court action against the Burmese generals," Dr Cho said.

"The top generals do not travel outside Burma because they fear that sort of action."

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