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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2960

Burma: Aid at the Point of a Gun

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 17, May ( Aid at the point of a gun to the disaster-struck Burmese people and the implementation of the 2006 United Nations’ Responsibility To Protect resolution, popularly known as R2P, are being mentioned in responsible circles in Washington, New York and in several European Capitals.

‘Aid at the Point of a Gun’ is the title of the Op-Ed piece carried in May 14 New York Times. Aung Din Executive Director of U.S. Campaign for Burma, an organization founded by the Burmese dissidents in the U.S., confirmed that efforts by the UN Security Council to order humanitarian aid into the Southeast Asian country of Burma over the objections of the ruling military regime have reached a dead end.

"Even though Burma's military regime is denying aid to 2 million people facing death, efforts at the UN Security Council to invoke the responsibility to protect doctrine (R2P) are dead as a doornail, mainly because of Burma's ally, China," said Aung Din, Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. "It is time for countries to stop waiting for the Council to act - which it won't - and commence immediate delivery of aid to thirsty, starving, and homeless Burmese now facing imminent threat of disease in the Irrawaddy Delta."

It is in this atmosphere and context that the notion of providing ‘Aid at the Point of a Gun’ has emerged.

It is reported that American armed forces are now gathering in large numbers in Thailand for the annual multinational military exercise known as Cobra Gold. The US Navy warships could pass from the Gulf of Thailand through the Strait of Malacca and north up the Bay of Bengal to the Irrawaddy Delta.

Cyclone Nargis had a direct hit on Irrawaddy Delta bringing disaster to millions of Burmese in the region including the areas under Burma’s main city and former capital Yangon bringing the death toll to 100,000.

R2P and ‘Aid at the Point of a Gun’ are seriously being considered many member nations of the United Nations.

In the wake of the genocide in Rwanda, the UN Security Council accepted the 'Responsibility to Protect' doctrine that allows the Security Council to authorize actions that infringe on national sovereignty in cases in which national governments commit crimes against humanity. Yet, China has led efforts at the UN to block the Security Council from invoking 'Responsibility to Protect' and therefore, the Council will not authorize countries to deliver aid directly to the Burmese people. China and others
have now closed the door on action by the UN Security Council.

Nevertheless, Asian Tribune did not get a clear explanation as to whether ‘Natural Disasters’ are a part of the R2P for the UN to intervene.

Burma's ruling military regime has come under intense international criticism for refusing to allow sufficient international aid and aid workers into the country. The regime has commandeered aid shipments, barred many foreign aid experts from visiting the worst-hit areas, prevented local Burmese groups from helping in relief operations, and exploited aid materials for its own benefit. The United States, France, and Britain have deployed ships off the coast of Burma. Neighboring countries are filled with unused, life-saving supplies. Countries also have deployed helicopters and amphibious vehicles that could be used to aid survivors. These vehicles and supplies sit unused as the
death toll mounts in Burma.

More and more voices are speaking out for immediate aid delivery to Burma. European Union foreign policy Chief Javier Solana called for aid to be delivered by "all means."

By “all means” can be interpreted as implementing the R2P to deliver essentials to the starving Burmese people.

"All the post-Rwanda talk about saving lives through the UN is completely useless in this situation," added Aung Din. "We can't wait a minute longer to send in aid - countries that have the capacity should dispatch aid immediately over the objections of Burma's military regime."

What is Responsibility to Protect or R2P?

On 28 April 2006, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1674 on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Resolution 1674 contains the historic first official Security Council reference to the responsibility to protect: it “reaffirms the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

The protection of civilians agenda is a framework for the UN’s diplomatic, legal, humanitarian, and human rights activities directed at the protection of populations during armed conflict. The Security Council has included the protection of civilians as a thematic issue on its agenda since 1999, with a particular focus on the duties of states and the role of the Security Council in addressing the needs of vulnerable populations including refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), women and children.

This agenda is directed at ensuring that all parties “understand how their responsibilities for the protection of civilians should be translated into action”, as UN Secretary General put it.

In this context, the World Summit Outcome Document endorsement of a responsibility to protect populations against genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing was a major development for the Security Council to consider.

In the World Summit Outcome document, world leaders pledged that the international community, acting through the Security Council “was prepared to take collective action” in a timely and decisive manner” when states are “manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

This development was welcomed as one of the most significant achievements in the Summit; it was a political commitment that could be used to hold the international community accountable if a population was threatened by genocide or similar large-scale atrocities. With a reaffirmation of this provision in Resolution 1674, the Security Council itself accepts the commitment made at the September 2006 Summit and further codifies R2P principles into the UN system: according to the UN Charter, all UN member states are obligated to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.

The Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma however laments that the United Nations has so far failed to act to get the food, medicine and other essentials to the distressed people of Burma affected by Cyclone Nargis that hit May 3.

Neither the resolution nor the Summit Outcome Document, however, automatically ensures that timely action will be taken by the Security Council. The World Summit Outcome language leaves the Security Council the discretion as to when it might act (“on a case by case basis”). For millions of civilians suffering or at risk of violence as a result of armed conflict, Security Council action has come too late, if at all. The Security Council must work to fulfill this commitment by responding earlier to warning signals using a range of measures commensurate with the seriousness of the threat to populations.

Now, the question is whether the R2P could intervene in Myanmar, or formerly known as Burma, when reports reach the UN that the military junta is preventing essentials reaching those who were affected by the cyclone. Can the UN intervene under the R2P on humanitarian grounds?

The Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma seems to think in the affirmative.

However, American military is now converging in Thailand for the annual drill, and the United States is at all odds with the Myanmar military junta.

While millions of people in this South East Asian nation are suffering because of the military junta’s ‘paranoid behavior’, it is interesting to observe the political antics that will be in display in this Asian region.

- Asian Tribune -

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