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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2784

Tibet Bypasses Security Council Scrutiny

Analysis by Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

United Nations, 20 March, (IPS): When the Security Council is called upon to deal with a crisis that threatens the political, military or economic interests of any of its five permanent members, the U.N.'s most powerful body acts predictably: it does nothing.

The killings and human rights transgressions in several of the world's trouble spots -- including Palestine, Burma (Myanmar), Sudan, Chechnya and now Tibet -- have failed to trigger any punitive action or mandatory sanctions against any of the governments or miscreants.

The United States, Britain and France have continued to protect Israel (against the Palestinians) while Russia and China are currently protective of the beleaguered governments in Sudan and Burma.

All five countries continue to manipulate the 15-member Security Council to their advantage primarily because of their veto powers.

Russia has it own domestic separatist problem in Chechnya and China faces an uprising in Tibet.

Both issues are unlikely to be on the agenda of the Security Council -- even if they are deemed threats to international peace and security.

"Tibet is a tough challenge for the United Nations in that, while there is certainly a strong moral imperative for action by the Security Council, the legal case is a bit murkier since the territory is recognized as part of China," says Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco.

"And, with the threat of a Chinese and Russian veto, no meaningful resolution could be passed anyway," he told IPS.

Given how vetoes and veto threats by the United States -- sometimes in conjunction with Britain and France -- have blocked Security Council action on even more egregious repression in recognized non-self-governing territories like Palestine and Western Sahara, "U.N. action on Tibet may be too much to hope for," said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

Last week's demonstrations in Tibet, marking the anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, resulted in the killings of several demonstrators.

But the numbers differ -- ranging from 16 to 80. The figures could not be verified because Tibet has remained out of bounds.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of Tibet who has been living in exile since the 1959 uprising, has called for an international investigation of last week's killings in Tibet.

But the permanent representative of Russia to the United Nations, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who is the current rotating president of the Security Council, told reporters Monday that Tibet was "not a matter for the Security Council".

Asked by IPS why the Security Council was avoiding Tibet, he repeated himself: "Because it is not a matter for the Security Council."

"Our foreign ministry has made a statement and I'll refer you to that, and I will not speak about it anymore," he declared.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is usually evasive on politically sensitive issues, has remained equally tight-lipped.

Asked if he sees a role for the United Nations in the Tibetan crisis, he ducked the question: "We will continuously monitor the situation, and we will get back to you."

"I have been closely following the recent development of the situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China," he said, weighing his words on the political status of Tibet.

"I am increasingly concerned about the tensions and reports of violence and loss of life in Tibet and elsewhere," he said, urging "restraint on the part of the authorities".

He added: "I call on all concerned to avoid further confrontation and violence, and I stress the importance of a peaceful resolution."

Asked if Tibet is a threat to international peace and security, which is usually the subject of Security Council intervention, Ban said: "We have not discussed this matter, and it was not on the agenda."

The secretary-general also refused to give any casualty figures.

"As I said, I am closely monitoring the situation." As for the exact number of casualties, he said, "I would have to check again."

"I had a meeting with the Chinese ambassador this morning, and also we discussed this matter. I expressed my concern and my views to the Chinese government," he said Monday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one Asian diplomat said that the Security Council is being run on a politically selfish principle: "You scratch my back, I will scratch yours."

Last month's carnage in Gaza, resulting in the deaths of at least 120 Palestinians (including 29 children and six women) and 11 Israelis (including one civilian and eight students in Jerusalem) did not evoke any political outrage in the Security Council.

What was at issue was the continued disproportionate use of military force by Israel, mostly against unarmed civilians, including women and children. At the same time, there was a rigid Israeli embargo on humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

The League of Arab States condemned the Israeli attacks as "crimes against humanity" and punishable by the International Criminal Court in The Hague or sanctions by the Security Council.

But even though the United States would have no compunction in using its veto to block any punitive action against Israel, neither China nor Russia wanted to risk antagonizing Washington.

The Chinese, who are traditionally sympathetic towards the Palestinians, would never have initiated any action, the diplomat said, fearing they would antagonize the United States which has so far refused to join the growing chorus of activists calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics in August.

Mark Malloch-Brown, the British minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, was quoted as saying that China may still jeopardize the Olympics if it continues with the suppression of dissidents in Tibet.

"With the Olympics ahead, they really will pay a terrible cost in international public opinion, if they're seen to violently crack down on dissidents," he added.

Last week, even the U.S. State Department, in its annual report on human rights, refused to name and shame the Chinese for violations.

"But in what looked like a political payoff to a government whose help America desperately needs on difficult problems, the department dropped China from its list of 10 worst violators," said the New York Times Tuesday.

The "difficult problems" include punitive action against Israel for its heavy-handed suppression of Palestinians.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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