Burmese case at the UNSC: A Silver Lining
by Kanbawza Win
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Prof. Kanbawza Win (Dr. B.T.Win):
Incumbent Dean of Students of AEIOU Programme, Chiangmai University, Thailand. Senior Research Fellow at the European Institute of Asian Studies, Under the European Commission, Brussels, Belgium. Earlier Consultant to National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma. Editorial Consultant, “Asian Tribune.”
In our BOXUN Burma’s Chinese Website, we have published several articles of him.
As the Security Council will make its deliberations this week, we publish this article to be something like giving weight to it.
For the first time, there is every possibility that Burma will be in the agenda of the United Nations Security Council indicating that the Burmese, as a race and nation are unable and unwilling to settle things peaceably among themselves. The Generals egoism and uncompromising attitude has compelled them to rely on the world body and if need be the UNSC can wield a big stick, to help them solve their own problem. Every peace loving peoples of Burma, especially the pro democracy movement and the ethnic nationalities have placed much hope on the UN. But as often, we forget to ask ourselves of whether the world body ever fulfil the hope of humanity itself. Sometimes we fear that the world leaders are failing the most fundamental test of their own humanity. Under Secretary General Jan Egeland has commented, " Darfur region has become one of the most humanitarian crisis in the world". Burma is just one of the many, where tens of thousands of innocent people have died. The world leaders and head of states have just met in New York in their quest to reform the organization but it seem that it has just taken one step and still a long way to the desired goal of the people of the world.
Obviously the most urgent issue facing will not be who get a permanent seat on the Security Council, nor even how to build consensus on the potentially catastrophic nexus of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. It will be whether innocents will be saved from slaughter of the dictators and political struggles such as Burma, Congo, Darfur and other little known or half forgotten humanitarian crises around the world and who will do the saving? The lives of millions of people are at stake.
The framer of UN Charter, written more than half a century ago with appalling losses of Word War II fresh in their minds has started best as "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war". The sense of excitement and romantic adventure aim was to outlaw aggression and create a system of collective security proscribed interference in the internal affairs of others. Even though the number of conflicts between states diminished, internal conflicts such as those in Burma, Bosnia, Rwanda and the likes has become the crucial issue. The international consensus on the need for protective action across borders has been slow to materialize. UN Secretary General himself has posed this question, "if humanitarian intervention was indeed an unacceptable assault on sovereignty whom will the world respond to such brutal inhumanity?" This question is now directly applicable to the case of the Burmese crisis.
Functions and Charter of the UNSC
"A drowning man will catch a last straw" goes a saying, so also the people of Burma have pin much hope on the UN as the only way to their liberation. The romance with the UN started way back in 1993 when the Special Rapporteur Professor Yozo Yokata was appointed as the Chairman on the Commission on Human Rights and submitted her report to the 47th session of the UN General Assembly and since then Burma has been in some way or other in the agenda of the General Assembly with no results. Now that there is some glimmer of hope to be taken by the Security Council one will have to wait and see for it.
Currently if we were to look at the Security Council members we have Argentina, Benin, Brazil, Denmark, Greece, Japan, Philippines, Romania, United Republic of Tanzania as rotating members in which five countries (Algeria, Benin, Brazil Philippines and Rumania) will end their membership by the end of this year. Then we have the five permanent members (China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and USA).Each Council member has one vote. Decisions on procedural matters are made by an affirmative vote of at least nine of the 15 members. 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.
Under the 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. The functions and power of the Security Council are as follows:-
to maintain international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations;
to investigate any dispute or situation which might lead to international friction;
to recommend methods of adjusting such disputes or the terms of settlement;
to formulate plans for the establishment of a system to regulate armaments;
to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression and to recommend what action should be taken;
to call on members to apply economic sanctions and other measures not involving the use of force to prevent or stop aggression;
to take military action against an aggressor;
to recommend the admission of new members;
to exercise the trusteeship functions of the United Nations in "strategic areas";
to recommend to the General Assembly the appointment of the Secretary-General and, together with the Assembly, to elect the Judges of the International Court of Justice.
So in the Burmese case even it were passed by the Security Council we will have to decipher as to what functions it recommend. If it recommends function No.6, the Junta will remain smug as before, however if it recommend function No 7, then democracy and the rule of law is within days to be reached.
However, it is still a long way to go, "the responsibility to protect" better known by its acronym as R2P, is resisted by almost every group. The Burmese genocide on its own people especially the ethnic races pales in comparison of what happens in Africa, and, yet some of the African government are more concerned on holding to their power than to have the R2P entrusted upon them. Maybe the European exploitation and the slave trade has left too much of a legacy. The Latin Americans look askance through the prism of two centuries of confliction relations with the US. The proponents of Asian values spearheaded by ASEAN are totally dedicated to the 17th century European belief in sovereignty, while the Americans are wary that it might put the constraints on their capacity to act. Obviously the Arabs and some Muslim countries remember "the crusades" which they found it parallels in the Palestine state.
This case of R2P became more complicated and complex with the Iraq war when a super power takes unilateral action and yet today its justification of weapons of mass destruction or relations with Al Qaeda could not be found and obviously Osama bin-Laden is laughing in his sleeves. Perhaps, if Uncle Sam has taken action when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds (1988) or suppressed the Shiites (1991) it may have held some water on the truth of R2P. Neither, of it was the last resort when the UN was still engaged in weapon inspection and the sanctions remain in effect. It has miserably failed in the right authority and has greatly tarnished the R2P theory.