Sunday, 27 July 2008

UN Security Council Action Needed on Burma

"China and Russia, both arch-defenders of the world's brutal regimes"
The Irrawaddy News

The UN’s top humanitarian relief official, John Holmes, ended his three day visit to Burma on Thursday after reviewing UN efforts in the country’s cyclone-affected areas. Holmes hailed the spirit of cooperation and vowed to continue cooperation with the Burmese regime on relief and an early recovery from the effects of the cyclone.

During his meeting with Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein and other ministers in Naypyidaw, Holmes told them the UN and other humanitarian agencies are ready to provide assistance and expertise to Burma in the vital areas of disaster preparedness, risk reduction and early warning systems. "We must make sure that humanitarian efforts continue to be separate from politics," he said.

But humanitarian aid, funded by donations from individuals, corporations, governments and other organizations, should not given without a monitoring system, including access to the organization’s mission statement, accounts and control systems, providing for greater transparency in operations and overall accountability.

At that point, the media could play an important role. Burma, however, has continued to restrict and censor press coverage of the cyclone and arrests the “messengers.” Moreover, there is still lack of recognition from the leaders—from regional to international—of the importance of allowing the press to function without harassment or intimidation during the next crucial phases of the multilateral relief effort in Burma.

While Holmes wants humanitarian efforts to be separate from politics, his boss, UN chief Ban Ki-moon, called for strong cooperation from the Burmese regime when UN mediator Ibrahim Gambari visits the country mid-August.

Ban also convened a meeting of the so-called "Group of Friends" on Burma which was set up last December—bringing together Australia, the UK, China, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the US, Vietnam, the European Community and the EU—to discuss Gambari's visit.

According to Ban, the group specifically focused on "tangible progress" expected "with regard to the resumption of dialogue between (Ms) Aung San Suu Kyi and the government, the credibility of the electoral process, and the regularization of engagement with the good offices of the Secretary General."

However, there has always been an excuse for putting off reform in Burma. Since Burma was voted onto the permanent agenda of the council in 2006, there is still a lack of mechanism and system to deal with the Burmese regime.

The UN Security Council still finds itself unable to agree to do much to protect suffering people, especially from Darfur, Zimbabwe, and Burma. China and Russia, both arch-defenders of the world's brutal regimes, have seriously consider the authorization of forceful intervention—even for humanitarian purpose—as a threat to a state’s sovereignty.

The concept of "responsibility to protect," adopted by a UN world summit in 2005, should not be dead when it comes to the issue of Burma. The world body should set an urgent agenda to broker a political and economic settlement on Burma.

If the military regime continues to refuse to implement democratic reforms and release political prisoners, including opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, why shouldn’t the UN Security Council take action on measures that will prevent the sale of arms to the Burmese military, and a ban on banking transactions targeting top Burma's ruling generals, as well as state and private entities that support the regime's weapons trade?

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