(by Benny Avni, NYSun.com) UNITED NATIONS- While several more protesters were arrested by Burma’s ruling junta yesterday, adding to the more than 100 already held and allegedly tortured since last week, and new alarms have been raised about heightened levels of unrest and human rights abuses in the country, both the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban have largely stayed on the sidelines, issuing no more than mild statements.
Although the regime in Rangoon reported that 64 protesters were arrested last week, a group of exiled Burmese, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, has issued a list naming at least 100 people it says were rounded up and tortured.
The arrests are apparently part of the ruling junta of General Than Shwe’s response to a wave of protests that followed a spike in government-controlled gasoline prices of 500%. The increase has made bus rides to work unaffordable for most Burmese.
Mr. Ban’s special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, said last week that he did not believe the recent events meant he should visit Rangoon soon. “I have a standing invitation to go. It’s just a question of when is best,” Mr. Gambari told The New York Sun.
“I am sure those arrested are now being tortured by the junta,” the secretary of the AAPP, Tate Naing, who spent more than four years in prison, said in a statement yesterday. “We know from firsthand experience that those arrested in Burma are always brutally tortured – both physically and psychologically – immediately upon arrest.”
Saying the events in Burma represent a dangerous new trend, human rights groups have called on the Security Council to convene. But U.N. diplomats say America, Britain, and France have been discouraged by a precedent set in January, when China, Russia, and South Africa resisted an American initiative to convene the council and later blocked it from issuing a mild statement on Burma.
“We need the secretary-general to help by supplying us with a technical reason to reconvene the council,” a Western diplomat who requested anonymity told the Sun yesterday. One such reason, he said, could be a trip to Burma by Mr. Gambari, who then would brief the council. But U.N. officials say it is up to the council to ask for a briefing. The Nigerian-born Mr. Gambari has traveled to several world capitals in recent months to discuss Burma-related issues but has visited the country as Mr. Ban’s envoy only once. He is not eager to confront the ruling junta now, as it struggles with a new wave of dissent, according to several U.N. diplomats.
After a day of calm, major clashes were renewed yesterday in three Burmese towns, the policy director of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma, Aung Din, said. The clashes, which were fiercest in Pegu, 50 miles north of Rangoon, pitted supporters of the imprisoned Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, members of her NLD party, unaffiliated students, and Buddhist monks against government-backed citizen groups such as the Union Solidarity and Development Association.
According to the AAPP report, the government-backed groups recently recruited members of Burma’s Muslim minority in an attempt to “stir up religious tensions with the predominantly Buddhist population.”
A leader of a dissident group known as the 88 Generation Student Group, Htay Kywe, was one of those arrested yesterday, Mr. Din of the Campaign for Burma told the Sun. The detainees are likely to end up at Rangoon’s Insein prison, known for its harsh conditions.
The Geneva-based U.N. human rights commissioner, Louise Arbour, yesterday issued a statement calling for Burma’s leadership to conduct talks with the protesters. A host of human rights organizations and Western governments have issued similar exhortations. In a statement last week, the State Department called for the immediate release of those arrested “and for an end to the regime’s blatant attempt to intimidate and silence those who are engaged in peaceful promotion of democracy.” Mr. Ban issued a more measured statement, saying he “calls on the authorities to exercise maximum restraint in responding to any demonstrations and encourages all parties to avoid any provocative action.”
Now is the time for Mr. Ban to “personally intervene and the Security Council to formulate a collective response,” Mr. Din said. But an American diplomat told the Sun that, as of yesterday, Washington had no immediate plans to convene the council to discuss Burma.
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. a) Define junta.
b) For what reason has Burma’s military junta had 100 citizens arrested, imprisoned and tortured? Be specific. (para. 1 & 3)
2. a) How has UN Secretary General Ban’s special envoy to Burma responded to the Burmese government’s actions against its citizens? (para. 4 & 7)
b) Do you think that Mr. Gambari’s response was appropriate? Explain your answer.
3. a) What is the purpose of the UN Security Council? click here
b) Why have human rights groups called on the Security Council to convene? (para. 5 & 6)
c) Why has the Security Council not done so?
(For a list of UN Security Council members, click here.)
4. Due to a lack of credibility, the UN Commission on Human Rights was replaced by the new Human Rights Council in 2006. The purpose of the Council is “to serve as the main United Nations forum for dialogue and cooperation on human rights. Its focus will be to help member states meet their human rights obligations through dialogue, capacity building, and technical assistance. The Council will also make recommendations to the General Assembly for further development of international law in the field of human rights.” The United States did not seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, asserting the body had lost its credibility with repeated attacks on Israel and a failure to confront other rights abusers.
Why do you think that the Human Rights Council has not done anything about the situation in Burma? (Read about the Council at the UN Watchdog group unwatch.org.)
5. Do you think that the UN Secretary General, the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council are responding appropriately to the recent events in Burma? Explain your answer.
Britain conquered Burma over a period of 62 years (1824-1886) and incorporated it into its Indian Empire. Burma was administered as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony; independence from the Commonwealth was attained in 1948. Gen. NE WIN dominated the government from 1962 to 1988, first as military ruler, then as self-appointed president, and later as political kingpin. Despite multiparty legislative elections in 1990 that resulted in the main opposition party – the National League for Democracy (NLD) – winning a landslide victory, the ruling junta refused to hand over power. NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient AUNG SAN SUU KYI, has been under house arrest on and off since 1989, the latest since 2003, where she remains virtually incommunicado. In February 2006, the junta extended her detention for another year. Her supporters, as well as all those who promote democracy and improved human rights, are routinely harassed or jailed. (adapted from the CIA World FactBook)
For a detailed report on freedom in Burma, go to freedomhouse.org
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