Asia-Pacific, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS: UN Council Deplores Repression of Protests in Burma

Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Oct 2 2007 (IPS) - The United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution Tuesday “strongly deploring” the violent crackdown on protesters in Burma over the last few weeks and urging the country’s military regime to engage in dialogue on fundamental rights and freedoms.

The decision was adopted by consensus after negotiations that slightly watered down the tone of the draft resolution tabled by the European Union, which “strongly condemned” the beatings, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances and killings committed by the security forces in Burma (which was renamed Myanmar by the military regime).

The president of the Human Rights Council, Romanian Ambassador Doru Romulus Costea, applauded the fact that the emergency session overcame the risk of disagreements among the Council’s 47 members and ended with a consensus decision, as did a special session last December on Darfur in western Sudan.

Three earlier emergency sessions, which focused on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories, the Israeli bombing of Lebanon, and armed Israeli incursions into the Palestinian territories and the shelling of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip, failed to reach a consensus.

Resolutions adopted by consensus are stronger, said Costea.

The special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Brazilian lawyer and professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, also welcomed the resolution passed by the Council, which was created in March 2006 to replace the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

He described the emergency session as “historic,” saying the Council’s activities had been seen up to now with a bit of “scepticism.”

Sébastien Gillioz, U.N. advocacy coordinator for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, told IPS that “the fact that the Human Rights Council met quite urgently in a special session is already a very strong signal. We welcome that decision.”

He underscored the “strong commitments and declarations from different members,” particularly the “very strong pronouncements delivered today” by the delegations from Zambia and Morocco, as well as the concern expressed by China and by regional groupings, especially the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), made up of Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

With respect to the resolution itself, Gillioz noted that there are no guarantees that the government of Burma will cooperate. He said Human Rights Watch fears that decades of non-cooperation on the part of the government will continue.

The activist said neighbouring countries and other countries in Asia shared a special responsibility for getting Burma to cooperate with the Human Rights Council.

The Council’s resolution also states that Pinheiro is to report on the situation in Burma at the U.N. General Assembly in late October, and during the Human Rights Council’s Dec. 10-14 session.

But in the meantime, “a lot of things can happen,” said Gillioz, referring to the plight of victims of human rights abuses in Burma.

There are no available figures on how many demonstrators, including Buddhist monks and civilians, have been killed by the security forces in Burma over the last week, but human rights and dissident groups speculate that the number could be as high as 200.

It is “the responsibility of every member of this Council to make sure that the situation doesn’t deteriorate further and that this resolution gets implemented,” said the activist, who regretted that the resolution was not given more “teeth.”

Two member delegations, those of India and Russia, expressed reservations with regard to wording used in the resolution.

Indian Ambassador Swashpawan Singh said his country had “advocated an outcome that was forward-looking, non-condemnatory, and sought to involve the authorities in Myanmar in a peaceful outcome, and regretted that the text adopted was not in line with this approach” and that “it did not engage constructively with the authorities in Myanmar.”

The Russian Federation, meanwhile, expressed dissatisfaction with certain parts of the text, saying “it did not assess the problems sufficiently and was unbalanced in nature.”

“The resolution should not be a condemnation of the government, but an encouragement for it to follow the path of democratisation,” said Ambassador Anton Vasiliev.

Amnesty International spokeswoman Judith Arenas told IPS that the London-based rights group was disappointed that the Council, the highest-level U.N. human rights body, did not use stronger language to vigorously condemn what is happening in Burma.

She said the behaviour of some countries, such as Russia, during the session, particularly disappointed Amnesty International.

“We hope to delve a bit more into the Russian position, especially because this week Amnesty published a report on arms sales to Burma, and Russia, as well as China, India, Ukraine and others, appear in the report,” said Arenas.

In a press release, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) criticised corporations that continue to do business with the military regime in Burma, despite the pressure from the international trade union movement and human rights and democracy groups.

Military aid will be a special focus of the ITUC campaign, which will also take a close look at the regime’s growing economic ties with India, China and several other countries, said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder in Brussels, where the organisation has its headquarters.

“The junta’s murderous reaction to the demonstrations in recent days shows how far they will go to maintain total power and continue lining their own pockets at the expense of the massive majority who are deprived of access to proper healthcare, education, decent food and other essentials,” said Ryder.

“Only a tiny few benefit from Burma’s links to foreign business, and they are the very authors of the murder, torture and violence which is still going on,” he added.

“No company can claim to have clean hands if it is doing business in or with Burma, since the generals take their cut out of every deal,” Ryder argued.

At the top of the list drawn up by ITUC of companies “with well-documented business links to Burma” are Caterpillar (USA), China National Petroleum Corp., China National Offshore Oil Corporation, Daewoo International Corporation and Hyundai (South Korea), Siemens (Germany), Gas Authority of India, GlaxoSmithKline (Britain), ONGC Videsh Ltd (India), Swift (Belgium), and Total (France).

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags