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."

Junta Defends Cyclone Response as 'Prompt,' with Schools Set to Reopen

The Irrawaddy News

Burma's military government said it planned to reopen schools Monday in several areas still reeling from a catastrophic cyclone, a move that international aid groups fear could be harmful to the children.

More than a week ago, the junta agreed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's request that foreign relief workers be allowed in to the areas worst affected by the storm in the Irrawaddy Delta, after they had been initially barred. But the regime has been slow to implement the agreement, allowing some in but limiting their numbers and adding conditions.

Deputy Defense Minister Maj-Gen Aye Myint, told an international security conference in Singapore that the junta broadcast warnings about the May 2-3 cyclone more than a week in advance and moved quickly to rescue and provide relief to the estimated 2.4 million survivors.

"Due to the prompt work" of the military government, food, water and medicine were provided to all victims, the defense minister said. "I believe the resettlement and rehabilitation process will be speedy."

The comments came a day after the junta came under sharp criticism for kicking homeless cyclone survivors out of shelters and sending them back to their devastated villages.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of displaced people have recently been expelled from their temporary shelters in schools, monasteries and public buildings, Human Rights Watch said Saturday.

"The forced evictions are part of government efforts to demonstrate that the emergency relief period is over and that the affected population is capable of rebuilding their lives without foreign assistance," Human Rights Watch said.

Some international aid agencies said their staffers were still meeting survivors deep in the delta who have not received any help since the storm hit.

Burma's military leaders have also been criticized for not immediately visiting cyclone-affected areas. Junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe visited some refugee camps two weeks after the storm.

An article in New Light of Myanmar newspaper said Than Shwe had intended to visit the affected regions as soon as the storm occurred, but delayed his plans "so that the Prime Minister, head of the National Disaster Management Committee, could carry out the relief and rescue work more effectively."

In its struggle to return to normalcy, the junta planned to reopen many schools Monday in areas hit by the cyclone, though some were scheduled to reopen in July.

UNICEF said more than 4,000 schools serving 1.1 million children were damaged or totally destroyed by the storm and more than 100 teachers were killed. As a result, the government planned to train volunteer teachers and hold some classes in camps and other temporary sites, the UN Children's Fund said.

"What is normally a safe space can become an unsafe space," said Gary Walker, a spokesman for the UK charity Plan. "Sending (children) to what can be unsafe buildings with ill-trained and ill-equipped teachers can actually set them back rather than leading them on a road to speedy recovery."

Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF's regional director, said that reopening schools in the delta Monday "may be too ambitious," since construction materials were still on the way and there was not enough time to rebuild schools and train new teachers.

Cyclone Nargis killed 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing.

Malaysia presses Myanmar to allow ASEAN militaries help the cyclone-devastated country

(Associated Press WorldStream Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) SINGAPORE_Malaysia urged Myanmar's junta Sunday to let Southeast Asian militaries help deliver aid to cyclone victims, an unprecedented plea for foreign intervention in a region where nations generally stay out of each other's affairs.

The appeal by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak at an international security conference came after Myanmar's Deputy Defense Minister Aye Myint used the forum to claim that his government acted promptly to provide relief in the aftermath of the May 2-3 Cyclone Nargis.

But Najib said the tragedy was of such a huge scale that the toll could surpass that of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Indonesia, where about 167,000 people died.

Cyclone Nargis killed about 78,000 people and left nearly 56,000 missing. Some 2.4 million survivors are in need of fresh water, food and medical care.

Myanmar has not allowed foreign militaries to deliver aid directly to cyclone victims, but Najib suggested that militaries of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations be allowed to do so.

"At the risk of offending my colleague here I would certainly speak on behalf of ASEAN that we do want to play a bigger role in the context of tragedy in Myanmar," Najib said, referring to Aye Myint, who sat next to him on the stage.

It was the most direct public appeal so far by a member of ASEAN for Myanmar's military rulers to give up their refusal to allow greater foreign help. ASEAN has generally followed the principle of noninterference in each other's affairs, and Najib's plea was unprecedented.

Najib said such a military mobilization would not threaten the junta.

"There is no other agenda in our mind when we send our military into stricken areas," he told reporters after the conference.

During the conference, he described the situation in Myanmar as "very, very serious" and noted that the military was the "only viable organization" that could be effective in disaster relief operations and could afford to deploy a large number of helicopters and boats. Such means of transport are needed to deliver aid to remote areas, he said.

"There is a huge human tragedy of the highest proportion that might befall the people of Myanmar if the government of Myanmar doesn't allow greater participation by ASEAN countries and by the world," he said.

Several people in the audience lambasted Myanmar after Najib's comments, with one questioner calling its actions "a scandal."

Aye Myint sat stoically through the verbal attack and did not respond to Najib's plea, saying only that his government was not preventing aid workers from doing their work.

Earlier in a speech, Aye Myint claimed that his government acted promptly in rescuing and providing relief. He also said that food, water and medicines have been provided to all victims, and that the government has now moved to a rehabilitation phase.

Many international aid agencies and foreign governments have said little government aid has reached most of the survivors.

Najib said that according to Malaysian aid workers in Myanmar, the scale of the disaster could become even bigger than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami if aid does not soon reach people.

"I don't know if that is a correct assessment but it is one view delivered to us by people who have been on the ground," he said.


Macho move would make Burma's plight even worse


WATERLOO, Canada — Their paranoia and mistrust of the outside world are such that Burma's generals have been criminally tardy in permitting emergency humanitarian supplies and personnel to come into the country. More than 100,000 may have been killed and over 2 million displaced and made homeless by the cyclone.
The rising tide of anger, outrage and frustration led French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the founder of MSF (Doctors without Borders), to suggest invoking the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) duty in the U.N. Security Council as the legal means to force open Burma's borders to outside help.

Kouchner's call has generated an intense debate in policy, advocacy and media circles that is worth parsing into moral, legal, political and practical components. There is also the question of which is more damaging to R2P in the longer term: invoking or ignoring it in the context of Burma since Cyclone Nargis.

R2P was a creative and innovative reformulation of the old "humanitarian intervention" debate by a Canadian-sponsored but independent international commission. We published our report at the end of 2001. Less than four years later, it was adopted without a dissenting vote at the U.N. summit of world leaders in New York.

In paragraphs 138/139 of the summit's outcome document, the assembled prime ministers and presidents of the world agreed that every state bears the responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

They further declared that they "are prepared to take collective action, in timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations."

Morally, there is no difference between large numbers of people being killed by soldiers firing into crowds or the government blocking the delivery of help to victims of natural disasters.

To the extent that R2P is rooted in solidarity with victims of atrocity crimes, the sophistry of the distinction between 100,000 killed by troops or through deliberate government neglect is morally repugnant.

Conceptually, the shift from the crime of mass killings by acts of commission (shooting people) and acts of omission (preventing them from getting food and medical attention) is a difference of degree rather than of type.

Legally, the four categories where R2P apply are genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

In our original report, we had explicitly included "overwhelming natural or environmental catastrophes" resulting in significant loss of life as R2P triggers if the state was unable or unwilling to cope, or rebuffed assistance. This was dropped by 2005. But "crimes against humanity" were included, and there would be few lawyers who would dispute its foundation for covering the Burmese generals' actions in blocking outside aid when 100,000 have been killed and 2.5 million are affected.

Politically, however, we cannot ignore the significance of the exclusion of natural and environmental disasters between 2001 and 2005. Clearly, the normative consensus on this new global norm did not extend beyond the acts of commission of atrocity crimes by delinquent governments.

To attempt to reintroduce it by the back door today would strengthen suspicion of Western motivations and reinforce cynicism of Western tactics. Unlike previous decades, the new unity of the global South, led by Brazil, China, India and South Africa, is based on a position of strength not weakness. The West can no longer set or control the agenda of international policy discourse and action.

Practically, there is no humanitarian crisis so grave that it cannot be made worse by military intervention.

Unappealing as they might be, the generals are in effective control of Burma. The only way to get aid quickly to where it is most needed is with the cooperation of the authorities. If they refuse, the notion of fighting one's way through to the victims is ludicrous.

The militarily overstretched Western powers have neither the capacity nor the will to start another war in the jungles of Southeast Asia. If foreign soldiers are involved, it does not take long for a war of liberation or humanitarian assistance to morph into a war of foreign occupation in the eyes of the local populace.

It's interesting that the further away countries are from Burma geographically and the less they know about it, the more of a macho stance they seem willing to embrace.

Asians forcefully reject any Western right to set the moral compass for the West's and everyone else's behavior. It's easy for those who have no interests engaged there to accuse China and India of standing shoulder to shoulder with the butchers of Burma.

Their protests and censure would carry more moral weight if their conduct showed a consistent privileging of principles over national strategic or commercial interests in their dealings around the world. Gross double standards can no longer be hidden from Asians.

Any effort to invoke R2P formally in the Security Council would have the counterproductive effect of damaging R2P permanently across Asia, if not more widely in developing countries.

Yet because of the moral and legal considerations, it would be equally shortsighted to rule out the relevance and application of R2P should the situation not improve and people start dying in large numbers from the aftereffects of Cyclone Nargis.

Nor can we rule out laying charges of crimes against humanity against the top leaders in due course.

Ramesh Thakur, a distinguished fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation and a political science professor at University of Waterloo, is one of the original R2P commissioners and author of "The United Nations, Peace and Security: From Collective Security to the Responsibility to Protect."

Japan Times

Gates hits at 'criminal neglect' by Burma junta

By Amy Kazmin in Bangkok and Raphael Minder in Singapore

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, yesterday accused Burma's military rulers of "criminal neglect" of their people, amid criticism that they were pushing victims of cyclone Nargis back to their devastated villages prematurely.

International aid agencies are also complaining of persistent difficulties getting clearance to work in the stricken Irrawaddy delta, despite the regime's promise to allow full access to "genuine humanitarian workers".

A World Food Programme helicopter - badly needed to accelerate the delivery of supplies, especially to remote areas - has been parked on the tarmac at the Rangoon airport for a week, awaiting regime clearance for use.

Numerous foreign aid workers, including 30 technical experts from the International Federation of the Red Cross and others from Médecins Sans Frontières, remain stuck in Rangoon, waiting for permission to enter the disaster zone.

However, Major-General Aye Myint, deputy defence minister, defended the regime's response to the emergency, telling an Asian security conference in Singapore yesterday that victims had received food, water and medicine due to authorities' "prompt work".

Although Nargis has left an estimated 133,000 people dead or missing and 2.4m survivors virtually destitute, Burma's junta has been reluctant to accept foreign support and expertise.

Mr Gates said the regime had been "deaf and dumb" to repeated US offers of help, including from the USS Essex and three other naval vessels laden with supplies in waters near the disaster zone.

"We have reached out, they have kept their hands in their pockets," he said. "We have exercised our moral obligations above and beyond the call." With western and Asian governments divided over delivering aid without the regime's approval, Mr Gates said the Essex would probably withdraw "in a matter of days".

The UN has called for any return of cyclone survivors to their villages to be "voluntary and done on a consultative basis". It said forced eviction from temporary camps would be "completely unacceptable".

Throughout the Irrawaddy delta, aid workers say temporary settlements, where the UN estimates 260,000 people have sought refuge since the cyclone, are being gradually shut down and their residents dispersed.

Myuangmya, a town that became a magnet for survivors searching for food, water and other help, now had just eight temporary settlements, from 30 a week ago, one aid worker said. Aid workers say authorities in Laputta are closing camps in town and offering victims a choice of returning to their communities or relocating to new camps outside town.

Terje Skavdal, of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the UN had made it clear to the authorities "we do not endorse premature returns to areas where there are no services.

"Satisfactory conditions need to be created before [people] can return to their place of origin."

Financial Times

Singapore volunteers tell of plight faced by Myanmar cyclone survivors

In the capital city of Yangon, except for the cracks in the ground where Cyclone Nargis had uprooted the trees, life appeared to be back to normal as people went about their business.

But just three hours away in the Irrawaddy Delta region — the “rice bowl” of Myanmar — where the May 2 cyclone hit the hardest, Singaporean volunteer Lim Hwee Sie had only one word to describe the scene: Devastation.

“The situation got worse the further we got from Yangon and as we got closer to the delta region,” said Ms Lim, a sales manager. “Houses there have fallen apart and there’s mud everywhere. Only a few concrete buildings are still standing.”

Together with Venerable K Gunaratana of the Mahakaruna Buddist Society and another volunteer, Ms Lim was in Myanmar for four days last week to deliver aid to residents who were affected by the cyclone.

Apart from the devastation, the level of poverty also shocked her. “They live in extremely simple houses with no toilets, and their clothes were dirty and falling apart,” said Ms Lim, 29, who was on her first relief trip.

Leaving Yangon behind, the group — on volunteer visas and accompanied by officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs — ventured three hours away to Dedaye and took a boat down the Irrawaddy River to a remote village.

No foreign or local aid had reached the area at the time, said Ms Lim. “I wondered then what they lived on, because all the fields had been destroyed and no one had delivered any food to them,” she said. “They looked fine and were not at the point of starvation, but they had very little that we could see.”

Another Singaporean who had gone to Myanmar to document the aftermath of the cyclone two weeks ago saw locals salvaging rice crops that been destroyed by the cyclone, even though they were not ready to be eaten.

“I think they were living on that,” said the 30-year-old, who only wanted to be known as Bryan. “The food distribution centres were all so far away and the people didn’t have any transport, so a lot of them came running, hoping to receive aid, whenever they heard the sound of vehicles.”

Ms Lim found the experience of delivering aid “surprisingly smooth”. She added: “I was concerned that we would be prevented from delivering the items to the locals but we managed to do that.”

However, Bryan said he saw “lots of aid” piling up at the airport, but none at many of the disaster sites. “Many people were in Yangon trying to help, but they were told to just hand the material over to the officials who were then supposed to deliver it themselves,” he said.

The presence of the Venerable Gunaratana, as well as the donations the society had been giving to the Myanmar embassy since the disaster, could have helped made things smoother, said Ms Lim. “We had no trouble at roadblocks or taking pictures, but I’ve seen other foreigners being chased away for taking pictures,” she said.

In spite of the desolation, she was impressed by the dignity of the residents. “They didn’t rush to us, they lined up to receive the food and money we brought for them,” she said. “You could sense the sadness but they made the most of what they had.”

With just three days to carry out what they had set out to do, Ms Lim is bracing herself to return to Myanmar with more aid. “I don’t think we have seen the worst yet,” she said. - TODAY/sh

To contribute food and medicine, or volunteer to deliver the aid to Myanmar, contact the Mahakaruna Buddhist Society at 6745 1803 or email

Channel News Asia

Enough is enough and Burmese help their own


Asean must isolate the Burmese junta or be accused of complicity in the hell that Than Shwe and his junta have unleashed in Burma.

Buddhist monks beaten; a government minister directing the head of the meteorology department not to issue a public warning after India gave them a 48-hour advance warning of impending disaster; Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest extended by a year _ all heinous atrocities.

The junta gives priority to a bogus referendum to perpetuate their bloody regime instead of aiding cyclone victims, and still lash out at international donors for not giving enough. The money they want runs into billions of dollars for which there will be no accountability and it will find its way into the junta's Swiss bank accounts, used for bathing their wives and daughters with diamonds, as Than Shwe so shamelessly demonstrated at his daughter's wedding.

Than Shwe and his minions must be brought to trial for their crimes against humanity in an international court before they take refuge in China in the unlikely event of a mass uprising. They have long forgotten how to be human beings.

Samut Sakhon



I have just returned from a two-week trip to Rangoon. It is my observation that much of the Cyclone Nargis relief is being provided by ordinary residences of Rangoon.

Every morning, as the sun rises over the sleepy town of Rangoon, small convoys of cars and small trucks loaded with food, water, clothes and shelter leave the city for destinations in the Irrawaddy delta, where needy refugees eagerly wait.

Some of the aid is distributed close to Rangoon and some as far away as Laputta.

These cars and trucks are not associated with any government, the United Nations or NGOs, but are owned and operated by private citizens in Rangoon who finance these operations from their own pockets.

Business people, shop owners, etc, have formed groups of people to aid victims of the cyclone. It seems like on every block there is at least one group of semi-organised ordinary people giving aid to refugees. Many of these groups started one or two days after the cyclone hit, long before international relief was allowed into the country.

We will probably never know how many lives these heroes of Rangoon have saved. But the number is probably considerable.

It was very uplifting and inspiring for me to see ordinary people so motivated and unselfish in such a crisis situation.


Bangkok Post