Burma at the United Nations Security Council

Published on September 9, 2006

By Nehginpao Kipgen

Bangkok Post – September 9, 2006

The tune of the international community vis-a-vis Burma is seemingly intriguing. There are times when hopes are high; and at other times dashed. John R Bolton, US ambassador to the United Nations, on Sept 1 sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) president Adamantios Vassilakis, with the notion that: ”Burma is a threat to international peace and security”. This was nothing new, but a renewing of the US commitment.

Although two attempts to bring Burma into the UNSC permanent agenda failed, Burma, in its recent history, has encouragingly been put twice to the test at the UNSC informal briefings on Dec 16, 2005 and May 31, 2006. After sending a letter to the incoming UNSC president on Sept 1, Mr Bolton was interviewed by the Cable News Network (CNN) at the UN headquarters. As usual, he appeared confident and upbeat about the renewed move at the UNSC.

Quoting his statement: ”Looking at the Burmese government’s involvement in international drug trafficking, the refugee flows out of Burma and in the region that its activities have caused, its violations of human rights, and the consequences that have had international implications, and a range of other activities, including some of its military policies. So all of those are there. We think it’s time to formally put it on the agenda, and that’s why we’re proceeding.”

Scanning this statement explains that John Bolton is self-satisfactorily convinced that Burma is a threat to international peace and security, which is the basis of founding the United Nations in 1945. Politicians and Burma experts may have their own varying interpretations and conclusions on this chemistry. Though not mentioned specifically, the recent mass exodus of the ethnic Karen people as a result of the Burmese soldiers’ gross human rights violations, could also be a catalyst behind this move.

Simultaneously, the US State Department is granting a waiver for Karen refugees living in Tham Hin refugee camp in Thailand. Also, US Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey on Aug 29, while talking to dozens of refugees in a bamboo-made meeting hall during a visit to the camp with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, said: ”We welcome you with open arms.” It appears that the US is preparing for a marathon race.

On the other hand, the US is also imbued with uncertainty on their move at the UNSC. Mr Bolton last Friday said, ”We obviously feel at this point that we will prevail and that Burma will be added. It’s possible that we would lose. There’s no question about that. This is a political matter, but we think it’s important that now States declare where they stand on the question.”

This statement implies that the US is testing the nerves of the council members. The question now is whether Burma could be on the council’s formal agenda thereby evolving into a possible resolution under chapter VI or VII of the UN charter. There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the Burmese democratic forces and their international allies, particularly the United States, want to see chapter VII resolution happen.

However, given the sturdy and resolute stance of China and Russia (checking off Japan from the list), this is still a hard nut to crack. Time will tell if the two permanent powers will continue to be adamant or simply abstain from any Security Council voting.

Finally, looking at the ASEM meeting in Helsinki, the European Union appears to prefer engaging indirectly with the military junta than isolating it.

Nehginpao Kipgen is the General Secretary of US-based Kuki International Forum and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947 – 2004).