BURMA: Junta has crossed the line from obstinateness to criminality

With the news that the military regime in Burma that has for a week denied its people outside help on May 9 seized the World Food Programme’s supplies in Rangoon and forced a planeload of supplies from Qatar to be returned to the country of origin, it is clear that it has crossed the line from obstinate to criminal behaviour. The taking of these supplies has rightly been described by a WFP spokesman as “unprecedented in modern humanitarian relief efforts”. The international community, the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the European Union, now have no choice but to act in unison and without regard to what the military regime thinks or wants, and instead, in the interests of its people.

For years there has been a hard debate among humanitarian aid workers and regional specialists about the merits or otherwise of engaging with Burma’s government in order to reach the population. That debate is now irrelevant. There is no possibility of meaningful engagement with an administration that goes even beyond the denying of access to outside groups when millions of its people are in desperate need of help and to the point of robbing the UN. And this can only be described as robbery: the act not of a government but of a criminal gang; a heist of the sort played out on a side road, not in the global spotlight. The utter contempt that the regime has for international law and its agencies, a contempt that has sharpened, not softened, in recent years, could not be clearer than this. The sheer illegality could be no starker.

The United Nations must now call emergency meetings of the Security Council and other key decision makers to formulate an immediate response that from this point onwards throws diplomacy in the rubbish bin and puts the survival of uncounted numbers of persons in the sodden villages, fields and towns of lower Burma solely on the table. There are various proposals being mooted at this time, but whatever form they take and whatever decision is made, it must at last rest on the interests of the cyclone’s victims and not the generals.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and key regional countries, especially India and China, must take heavy blame for the deadly farce that has come to characterise the response to Cyclone Nargis. Had the association and these two presumptive superpowers shown strong leadership and a determination from the start not to put up with any nonsense then things could have been different. But their inadequate and uncoordinated reactions belittled the disaster as well as its victims and left everything in the hands of the generals. These three must now make amends by cooperating fully with the international community, and especially the UN Security Council, in seeing that international law is upheld and the basic rights to food, clean water and shelter of Burma’s people are met with or without the acquiescence of its government. There is literally no other way left.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-130-2008
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),