The U.N. must act on Burma

October 03, 2005

The National League for Democracy was legitimately elected to power by a landslide15 years ago in Myanmar, the too often forgotten nation better known as Burma. For most of that time, the NLD's leader, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been kept under detention by a military junta. Also for most of that time, the United Nations has been dispatching special envoys to engage the Burmese generals on their human-rights violations, drug trade and role in spreading AIDs - without success.

A stronger U.N. effort to save Myanmar is long overdue. The United States recently made the welcome step of announcing it would try again to put the failed state's situation on the U.N. Security Council's agenda, despite past resistance from Russia and China. And a new analysis - commissioned by Vaclav Havel, the former Czech Republic president, and Bishop Desmond M. Tutu, the South African Nobel laureate - makes a powerful case that Myanmar has become such a major threat to peace and security in Southeast Asia that it fulfills the historical criteria for direct Security Council intervention.

Their lengthy report, researched by the international law firm DLA Piper Rudnik Gray Carey, examines events leading to the Security Council's seven past interventions (in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Haiti, the Republic of Yemen, Rwanda, Liberia and Cambodia). These were variously prompted by one or more of the following circumstances: the overthrow of a democratic government, internal factional conflicts, human rights violations, refugee outflows, and drug trafficking.

Every one of these factors - plus an unwillingness to cooperate internationally in curbing the spread of AIDs - is at work in Myanmar today. "The persistence of these circumstances in Burma and the region, in conjunction with the failure of the regime to implement any reform or enable outside organizations to facilitate progress, makes the overall magnitude of the threat to peace in Burma substantially higher than it was in cases where the Security Council has acted in the past," the report concludes.

In other words, this is a vile regime that begs for more direct U.N pressure. It has prevented the NLD from taking power; harassed, jailed or murdered its leaders, and denied the Burmese their political rights. It has long been at war with ethnic factions within Myanmar. It has destroyed villages, forced massive relocations, allowed widespread military rapes and slave labor, turned children into soldiers, and exported 700,000 refugees. And it has turned Myanmar into one of the world's poorest nations, one of the top producers of heroin and amphetamine, and, through its sex and drug trades, the leading contributer to the AIDs problem in Southeast Asia.

Some of Myanmar's Southeast Asian neighbors are showing signs of losing patience with the ruling junta, and the United States and the European Union have sanctioned the regime. But that has not produced any meaningful dialogue with the generals. The next step must be concerted, multilateral pressure from the Security Council.

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