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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1976

Burma Question: A catch-22 between Self-interest and Social Equality

By - Zin Linn*

Burmese people are surprised and frustrated by the media reports that South Africa President Thabo Mbeki has not helped their cause with his decision to lend support to China's veto on Burma question at the UN Security Council.

In an interview to South African public broadcaster, SABC, Mbeki ticked off the Security Council for its resolution for democratic reforms in Burma. The interview came on 12 February, which the Burmese celebrate as Union Day.

In January, United States and Britain tabled a resolution in the Security Council calling on Burma's military regime to free political prisoners, end sexual violence by the military and speed up democratic reform. When it was put to vote on Feb 12, China and Russia voted against the resolution. South Africa too opposed the text, taking the stand that the Security Council's mandate was limited to matters that threaten world peace.

In his interview, Mbeki said that the Burmese issue should not be put forward unto the Security Council but the proper forum dealing with such cases is the UN's Human Rights Council.

China and Russia came together to block the US move at the Security Council. It was the first double veto in nearly 20 years Washington invoked Burma junta's poor humans rights record to table its censure of Yangon.

The Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said his country's position is completely in accordance with the UN charter's spirit. He did not elaborate but China's UN ambassador said a pre-requisite for Security Council action is a threat to international peace. The vote and its aftermath dont take us to such a situation, he was quoted as saying.

There is a five-point check list to bring any country on the agenda of the Security Council. These are – (a) the overthrow of a democratic government, (b) conflict among factions, (c) human rights and humanitarian violations, (d) refugee outflows and (e) other transnational problems such as drug trafficking and HIV/AIDS.

Only some of these criteria were met in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Rwanda, Liberia and Cambodia. yet the Supreme Court felt it proper to discuss about them and even mandating action against them. Burma fits the criteria on all five counts. yet , the powers that be did not consider Burma a fit case for world body's agenda at least. What a pity!

President Mbekie need not be reminded that South Africa gained enormously from UN activism against a despotic apartheid regime. So, he and his countrymen will appreciate that their decision on Feb 12 only provided unsolicited and undeserving relief to a military junta which has been trampling on people's rights and incarcerating democracy activist..

Focusing to the point, China and Russia, abetted by SA, have fabricated a logistic assumption of their negative response by arguing that the oppressive conditions and conflicts are domestic affairs of a sovereign state and such circumstances do not correspond to a threat toward peace and stability in the region. They also took the plea that no neighboring country identified Burma as a regional threat, although Burma/ has repeatedly proved a thorny topic for fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

A Malaysian parliamentarian compared the Burmese senior general to Hitler and Stalin. Former Thai ambassador to the UN Asda Jayanama supports the UN action as a big step forward in the making of democratic Burma. Zaid Ibrahim, the chairperson of the inter-parliamentary Burma caucus (AIPMC), called on Asean to suspend or expel the regime.

It has been dawdling to put into practice a promised "road map" to democracy, and ASEAN countries have been pondered the creation of their own charter which would allow them to review over the non-intervention with internal affairs of member nations.

Inconsistent raison d'être of China, Russia and SA is really amazing whilst approximately 3-million Burmese have left their mother land and took shelter in neighboring countries; the IDPs (internally displaced people) are also in their millions wandering in the malarial mosquitoes-infested jungles. It is widely known that Burma as well as the military dictators are involved in international drug trafficking. It is notorious for forced conscription of children into the army.

According to the ILO, Burma still makes use of forced-labor to expand military-monopolized conglomerates. Complaints abound that the military members practice systematic rape as a weapon of war against Burmese and ethnic women. Although there is no foreign threat, Burma has enrolled up to four-hundred thousand in its army; the force usually attacks its own nationals to confiscate their lands and properties.

Unbiased observers can precisely make out that Burmese people have been facing – declining standards of living and increasing poverty, denial of citizen rights, denial of human rights, denial of political rights, jailing more than one thousand political prisoners, refusal of minority apprehension, ignorance of environmental dilapidation and situation of lawlessness, insecurity and fear.

The ugliest manifestation of human rights violation is the detention of Nobel Peace Prize-winner and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi for much of the last two decades. Her political party had won landslide victory in 1990 elections but the verdict was never honored. Many of her supporters remain behind bars.

On the other hand, the junta's authorities involve in the drug trafficking, protect the drug lords and helps Burma becoming the world's second largest producer of opium, and the world's top producer of amphetamine-type stimulant or ATS pills. Thailand alone receives up to a billion ATS from Burma every year. That's why the United States has been regularly charging the regime of torturing, raping and executing its own people, waging war on minorities and looking the other way while drug and human trafficking grows.

The draconian policies of the regime have led to a steady socio-economic downturn, as evidenced by rising rate of hyperinflation and commodity prices, infant mortality, malnutrition, malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. According to UN Reports, 75% of Burmese population lives under the poverty-line. A quarter of the household is facing minimum subsistence level. For example, 2 kg of rice price in February 2006 was 300 kyats in Burmese currency and now it rises up to 1000 kyats, compare to 500 kyats for a daily-waged worker. Over six hundred thousand people are HIV positive and one-third of children are moderately malnourished, one-tenth of those half-starved children died before five years of age.

A 2006-report by Dr. Chris Beyrer's team says:'' The epidemic of TB in Burma is closely linked to that of HIV. The WHO estimates that approximately 6.8% of TB patients in Burma have HIV, while in patients with living HIV infection, 60-80% also have TB, making this the most common opportunistic infection in AIDS. Today, Burma has the highest mortality rate amongst TB patients co-infected with HIV in South East Asia. An average of 600,000 new cases of malaria and 100,000 new cases of tuberculosis are documented per annum as the regime spent $ 22,000 for 600,000 HIV patients and $ 312,000 for tuberculosis infected people (40% of the population).'' In the meantime, the junta's most recent budget cited that it spent $ 1.1 per citizen on education and 40 ¢ on healthcare, compared to $ 400 on each soldier.

In his address on 13 February to the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg, the UK's ambassador to the United Nations Sir Emyr Jones Parry has questioned why, in view of SA's apartheid past, the country did not vote to support a Security Council resolution to condemn the military junta in Burma for abusing human rights. The UK voted for the US-sponsored resolution along with majority on the council. SA was the only country to side with China and Russia.

Sir Emyr Jones Parry said: "The UK did not walk on the other side when it passed sanctions against the internal apartheid policies of the then South African government. We are not prepared to walk on the other side of an appalling situation in Myanmar."

South Africa is the country of Nelson Mandela for every one of us. He is living symbol of campaign against any form of exploitation. Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of all South Africans who suffered and sacrificed so much and struggled for the human spirit over man's inhumanity to man. Burmese people have noticed President Thabo Mbeki's name in the autobiography of Nelson Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom. So, to them, Thabo Mbeki is a supporter for democracy and human rights. For the sake of the SA's honorary past, Mbeki should review his opinion on military ruled Burma.

People of Burma hope that the people of SA strongly support their democratic right for social equality and end to military oppression. The world is changing. Any one who tries in vain stopping democratic waves will face the reprimand of the awakening populace throughout the world.

Zin Linn is an ex-political prisoner and exiled writer. He is an executive member of the Burma Media Association, which is affiliated with the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers.

- Asian Tribune -

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