Burma is looming: Pragmatic changes needed

Published on October 6, 2005

By Nehginpao Kipgen

The topsy-turvy socio-political climax has sidelined Burma at the international arena. Juggling of facts in attempts to adorn the military’s image has for long been mimicking both the country’s commoners and the international observers. The era of Newin, Burma’s iron-man, has gone; the fur of Than Shwe’s, Burma’s strong-man, is now insurmountably but blisteringly spanning.

The swift ouster of Khin Nyunt, the once undoubtedly powerful man of his time, has further consolidated the hardliners hands on the country’s political machinery. Sensing the exigency, volte-face decisive actions from the military regime’s friends are needed at this critical juncture.

Allowing the factual history to speak: Burma was at the vicinity to a representative democracy, although there were observations to count. In other words, Burma, since the post independence, has never been in line with a “Genuine Federal Democratic Society.”  Till the coup d’etat of 1962, the country was waveringly governed in accordance with the provisions of the 1948 constitution.

A brand new constitution, which served the basis of governmental organization, was adopted in 1974, but only to be null and void with the September 1988 military coup. This astuteness of the military in cocooning the country’s governance is a vivid example of Burma debilitating herself. The military takeover on September 18, 1988, was the hallmark of today’s State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

With the September coup, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) had transpired to enable countrywide general elections. The election held on May 27 1990 turned in favor of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other ethnic parties. The SLORC backed-National Unity Party (NUP), which overwhelmingly lost the race, delayed transferring power to the elected representatives with the excuse of writing a new constitution.

Elected representatives were either arrested or invited for a National Convention to draft the country’s constitution. The convention, which was attended by handpicked delegates, first met in January 1993, but was adjourned sine-die with no handy constitution. This was another political ploy to furthering the military’s handiworks.

While 15 years of words of engagements from the UN Secretary General’s office and successive resolutions passed have had limited effects, action by the UN Security Council is expected to be more pragmatic and realistic. Political pressures and economic sanctions are at times found to be adequately yielding; however, the same practice with respect to Burma seems to have failed to reach the optimum target as multiple countries keep endowing economic incentives to the military junta.

Given the norm that military intervention is generally a last resort to any endangered protectorate or country, any move by the UN Security Council on Burma would undoubtedly have tremendous impact.

“Under the United Nations Charter, all Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council. While other organs of the United Nations make recommendations to Governments, the Council alone has the power to take decisions which Member States are obligated under the Charter to carry out. Decisions on substantive matters require nine votes, including the concurring votes of all five permanent members. This is the rule of “great Power unanimity”, often referred to as the “veto” power.”

Considering the critical procedural nature of the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) unanimous decisions, there is skepticism lingering in the heads of many observers whether the two veto powers – China and Russia would either reject the move or abstain themselves from any voting. In this regard, the “yes or no” discretion of the duo powers can be a matter to ponder; nevertheless, the ball is in the court of the proponents to push toward the goal.

UN special envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro’s September report to the 60th UN General Assembly, detailing serious human rights violations against the country’s ethnic minorities and demanding the release of the 1,100 political prisoners, is an impetus for movers. Meanwhile, reports from two Nobel peace laureates, former Czech president Vaclav Havel and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to the United Nations, calling on the world body to take new steps to push the junta to reform was a significant maneuver.

In a similar tone, the United States government deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric John told a congressional panel in Washington, D.C last month: “Burma’s junta must take steps that allow the international community to put relations on a normal footing, such as bringing its deplorable human rights practices into conformity with international standards.” Noticeably echoing, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Paulo Sergio Pinheiro and the Secretary General’s own special envoy, Razali Ismail, have been barred from entering Burma.

Among others, Committee Representing People’s Parliament, National League for Democracy, National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, many 8888-student leaders, and various groups of ethnic nationalities in and outside the country have unequivocally voiced their support for the intervention of UNSC in Burma’s political turmoil.

This historic step is a common united approach pursued by the pro-democracy groups of approximately 50 plus million people of Burma in the hope to bring forth a durable solution to the ethno-political conflicts ridden society.

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).