[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 9/6/08
- Burma rates foreign media 'worst than cyclone'
- Than Shwe 'ordered troops to execute villagers'
- Cyclone refugees threatened with relocation
- Cyclone victims migrating to Thailand
- Disease spreads through Burma
- Rights groups report post-cyclone abuses
- Monks and students reject junta's constitution
- Rights group: Myanmar exchanging food for labor
- Indian cabinet approves bilateral investment promotion pact with Myanmar
- Burma and the Bush Administration: It's time to intervene
- Burma still blocking cyclone aid effort
Burma rates foreign media 'worst than cyclone'
Rangoon (dpa) - Burmese state-controlled propaganda outlets on Sunday lashed out at foreign media that the despotic regime claims are spreading false news aboutaid efforts for victims of Cyclone Nargis in an effort to "undermine national unity."
"At present, some foreign broadcasting stations are making attempts to undermine the national unity under the pretext of Nargis," said The New Light of Myanmar, in an opinion piece under the title of "The enemy who is more destructive than Nargis."
The newspaper is an English language mouthpiece of the military dictatorship.
Cyclone Nargis swept through the central coastal region on May 2-3, leaving at least 133,000 dead or missing and 2.4 million in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
The ruling junta, whose past record of human rights abuses and dictatorial rule have won it pariah status for Western democracies, has drawn widespread criticism for hampering an international effort to get emergency aid to the regions hardest-hit by the cyclone where even now, a month after the catastrophe, up to a million people have yet to receive assistance.
There have been numerous reports of the military's attempts to monopolise aid distribution, or worse, have siphoned off international aid for their own benefit.
The New Light of Myanmar attributed such negative reports to foreign plots to undermine the government.
It cited a recent broadcast by "certain foreign radio stations" that claimed that packets of instant noodles meant for cyclone victims were being sold at public markets.
"I visited several markets to find out whether foreign-made instant noodle packets were on sale there," said the author, who identified himself as Ngar Min Swe. "I found them, but not many. The exaggerated news story was intended to destroy the generosity of donor countries and organisations.
"But we [Burmese people] were able to overcome the instigation of those broadcasting stations that are worse than Nargis," he concluded.
Burma has been under military rule since 1962, when former strongman Ne Win seized power with a coup and put the country on the disastrous "Burmese Way to Socialism."
Ne Win's nationalisation spree included all newspapers and radio stations, which have been under government control for the past 46 years. Foreign journalists are barred from working in the country and are only occasionally permitted to visit officially.
No visas have been issued to foreign journalists since Cyclone Nargis, although many have gone in as tourists.
Than Shwe 'ordered troops to execute villagers' - Richard Lloyd Parry
VOA News: Sun 8 Jun 2008
The leader of the Burmese junta, Than Shwe, personally ordered the murder of scores of unarmed villagers and Thai fishermen, according to a senior diplomat and military intelligence officer who defected to America.
Aung Lin Htut, formerly the deputy chief of mission at the Burmese Embassy in Washington, described to a radio station how 81 people, including women and children, were shot and buried on an isolated island after straying into a remote military zone in the southeast of the country in 1998.
After one general hesitated to kill the civilians, fearing that the commander who had given the order was drunk, he was informed that it came from "Aba Gyi" or "Great Father" - the term used to refer to Senior General Than Shwe, the head of the junta.
A few days later troops from the same military base captured a Thai fishing boat that had strayed close to Christie Island in the Mergui Archipelago. The 22 fishermen on board were also shot and buried on the island. "I was a witness to the two incidents in which a total of about 81 people were killed," Mr Aung Lin Htut, formerly a major in military intelligence, told the Burmese language service of Voice of America. "All of them were unarmed civilians." In 46 years of military rule in Burma, there have been numerous reports of grave human rights violations but few have been attested by so well placed a source as Mr Aung Lin Htut. They come at a time when General Than Shwe and his regime are coming under scrutiny, after their refusal to allow a full scale relief operation for the victims of Cyclone Nargis.
The French Government has said that it comes close to being a "crime against humanity", and last week Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, called it "criminal neglect". If a tribunal like the ones established for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia is ever created for Burma, then Mr Aung Lin Htut will doubtless be called to give evidence.
He sought asylum in the US in 2005, along with six members of his family, after a purge against the country's prime minister and intelligence chief of the time by General Than Shwe destroyed the careers of a generation of intelligence officers. Given the control of information in Burma, his account is impossible to verify. But it has credibility because it is the first time since his defection that Mr Aung Lin Htut has made any public comment on his former masters.
In May 1998 he was stationed on Zadetkyi island, a frontline base close to Burma's maritime border with Thailand. The commander of the base was Colonel Zaw Min, who is now Minister for Electric Power and general secretary of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, the junta's grassroots organisation.
A unit led by the colonel landed on Christie Island and found 59 people living there to gather wood and bamboo, in violation of Burmese law. The order came back from headquarters that they were to be "eliminated".
Myint Swe, an air force general, said that he was a religious person, and that the matter should be handled delicately. He said that he was very concerned by the timing of the elimination order - just after lunch, a time when General Maung Aye, now the number two in the junta, was usually drunk.
Listen to VOA at: http://www.hotlinkfiles.com/files/1401487_dstus/25May2008VOA.mp3
Cyclone refugees threatened with relocation - Htet Yazar
Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 6 Jun 2008
Local authorities in Rangoon division's Shwe Paukkan township are forcing cyclone victims out of makeshift refugee camps in town and threatening them with relocation to Arakan state if they refuse to leave. A refugee living in one of the camps in the township said they had been told they would be sent to Butheetaung-Maung Taw township if they did not return to their villages.
"We've been at this camp since the day after the cyclone hit our homes. So far we have received no assistance from the government and now the local authorities are forcing us to go back to our homes," the refugee said.
"They said those who refused to leave the camp would be relocated to Butheetaung-Maung Taw township in Arakan state with an allowance of 100,000 kyat," he said.
"We don't want to go and live there but we have no homes left to go to."
An aid volunteer who has been working in Shwe Paukkan said it would be impossible for the cyclone victims to return to their homes.
"These refugees have no money to rebuild their homes and the places where their houses used to be are now surrounded by water," the aid worker said.
"Now they are getting kicked out of the refugee camps, but they have nowhere to go," he said.
"The government has provided no assistance for them - they have had to rely on aid from private donors."
The United Nations has said that forced returns of cyclone refugees are unacceptable, but authorities are continuing to send victims back to their villages.
Cyclone victims migrating to Thailand - Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Fri 6 Jun 2008
"I came to Thailand because the situation back in the Irrawaddy delta was becoming critical," said cyclone survivor Ma Win. "We had received no aid. My child was seriously sick and suffering from diarrhea. I was ill too; we only had boiled rice to eat for three days."
As soon as he heard about the disaster, Ma Win's husband left Thailand where he was working and headed home to Laputta to look for his wife and six-month-old son. They had survived the cyclone, but their house was destroyed. He immediately decided to take them back with him to Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border.
They traveled for nearly two days by bus, truck and foot and had to pay soldiers 500 kyat (US $0.43) at each army checkpoint along the road to Mae Sot. They arrived on May 7. Ma Win and her baby are now receiving care and are regaining their strength.
Ma Win is among some 100 Burmese cyclone victims who have arrived recently in Mae Sot, which borders the Burmese town of Myawaddy.
Mahn Mahn, a team leader for the Backpack Health Worker Team, a medical relief group that has been assisting the new arrivals, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday: "The cyclone victims are arriving separately - nearly 100 people so far. Some are from the Irrawaddy delta and some are from Rangoon. If they didn't lose their parents, they lost their sons or daughters."
Among the cyclone victims who have arrived recently are orphans. Some are currently sheltering at the Mae La refugee camp, at Dr Cynthia's Mae Tao clinic or in the Backpack office. Others are staying with relatives and friends in Mae Sot town, said sources.
"Some came here in the hope they would receive aid, said Mahn Mahn. "Most people have no plan. Some will stay here wherever they can. Others say they will look for jobs here in Mae Sot."
The newcomers mostly came from disaster hard-hit regions such as Kungyangone and Hlaing Tharyar in Rangoon division and Laputta, Myaung Mya and Ngapudaw in the Irrawaddy delta, according to sources in Mae Sot.
Tin Shwe, who works at the Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, said that 49 new arrivals are now staying in the clinic and more refugees are expected.
Burmese social workers, such as Mar Mar Aye, are counseling the newcomers and providing some financial support.
Meanwhile, Thailand-based labor rights groups, Action Network for Migrants (Thailand) and the Mekong Migration Network, released a joint letter of appeal to the Thai government on June 4 saying requesting help for the cyclone victims while stressing: "The people of Burma will only migrate to Thailand if there is no other means of survival."
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, Adisorn Kerdmongkol, from the Action Network for Migrants, said, "If the survivors and the farmers cannot cultivate their land, I think most of them will migrate to Thailand."
The labor rights groups sent the joint letter of appeal to the Thai ministries of the interior, labor and social development and human security, calling for Thai authorities to allow Burmese migrants to return home to visit families who were affected by the cyclone, but then be allowed to return to Thailand.
The groups also urged the Thai government to ensure that the Burmese military authorities provide full protection to the cyclone victims in terms of shelter, food, medical care, reconstruction and restoration of livelihoods.
Disease spreads through Burma
Agence France Presse: Fri 6 Jun 2008
Dysentery, typhoid and other diseases are spreading through Myanmar's notorious Insein Prison after Cyclone Nargis destroyed inmates' food supplies, a Thailand-based watchdog said on Friday.
The cyclone that hit five weeks ago ripped off roofs and flooded wards at Insein, which holds many of Myanmar's nearly 2 000 political prisoners, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said in a statement.
The group said in May that 40 people died in a riot in the prison during the cyclone after a fire broke out. Security forces opened fire to quell the violence, while four political prisoners were later tortured to death during interrogations, AAPP said.
The storm ripped the roof off the prison's food warehouse, leaving most of its stocks rotting. The International Committee of the Red Cross delivered fresh food, but these supplies have already run out, AAPP said.
Now prison authorities are giving inmates rotten food, which has caused outbreaks of disease, hitting female prisoners especially hard, the group said.
"The health situation of prisoners will worsen and become critical if they are fed that bad and inedible food any longer," said Tate Naing, AAPP's secretary.
"Contagious diseases will spread very quickly in a crowded place like a prison, if authorities do not take appropriate actions promptly."
Myanmar is believed to have at least 1 800 political prisoners, including 700 arrested in 2007 in a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks.
Tate Naing said at least two of them are in serious ill health, including Myo Yan Naung Thein, who was arrested in December for joining the monks' protests.
He was beaten during interrogation and now requires assistance to walk, Tate Naing said.
Ohn Than, who was arrested in August after protesting outside the US embassy in Yangon, is suffering from cerebral malaria, which is now at a severe stage, he added.
More than 133 000 people are dead or missing following the cyclone, which struck on May 2-3. The United Nations estimates that one million hungry and homeless survivors have yet to receive any aid, despite the ruling junta's promises to speed up the relief effort.
Rights groups report post-cyclone abuses - Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Fri 6 Jun 2008
Burmese and international human rights groups have accused Burma's ruling junta of committing serious rights violations in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, heightening concerns that the regime's refusal to allow an open and transparent international relief effort is endangering the safety of victims of the deadly storm.
In a statement released on Friday, the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP) said that inmates of Rangoon's Insein Prison were being forced to eat spoiled rice, even after the International Committee of the Red Cross replaced "moldy, foul and inedible rice" damaged by exposure to rain.
AAPP said that a few days after prison authorities received the new rice, they reverted to using rice that had been stored in a warehouse when Cyclone Nargis ripped the roof off the building.
According to the group, the spoiled rice was causing intestinal problems such as diarrhea and dysentery, as well as other symptoms, including vomiting, dizziness, rashes and stomach swelling.
Meanwhile, leading international human rights advocacy group Amnesty International (AI) claimed on Thursday that the Burmese military junta has been misusing international aid and forcing cyclone victims out of emergency shelters.
In a report titled "Myanmar Briefing: Human rights concerns a month after Cyclone Nargis," AI said that the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) began evicting homeless cyclone survivors from government and unofficial relief camps after it declared an end to the rescue and relief phase of its disaster response on May 20.
The report also details cases of local officials "obstructing or misusing aid." Despite statements against such conduct by senior leaders, corruption continues to go unpunished, according to the report.
The group said that it had received over 40 reports or accounts of aid being confiscated by government officials, diverted or withheld instead of being handed to cyclone survivors.
AI's Burma researcher, Benjamin Zawacki, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the report aims to alert the donor community of ongoing human right abuses and "ideally, to ensure that they will stop."
The main human rights concern after the cyclone was displacement in the affected areas, he said.
Zawacki also said that claims by the United Nations that its agencies had provided relief goods to one million survivors needed to be put into context.
"Even if it is correct that one million people have been reached, that simply means that they have received some formal assistance.
"That doesn't necessarily mean that it has been comprehensive or sufficient. Some formal assistancethat could be a single bottle of water for a single person," he said.
He also noted that more than 2.4 million were affected by the cyclone.
"So even if the UN's one million figure is correct, that is still less than half of all the people who need to have assistance," he said. "That is a really huge concern, as it shows that access to the Irrawady delta is still not what it should be."
Zawacki described the arrest of Burmese comedian Maung Thura, also known as Zarganar, on Thursday as a "message of intimidation" directed at political activists.
"By detaining him, the SPDC is seeking to send the message that political dissidents and people who are politically active should not be involved," the AI researcher said.
He added that by arresting Zarganar, the junta was contradicting an announcement it made on May 27, when it declared that individual donor were free to carry out relief work.
AI also published another Burma-related report on Thursday.
"Crimes against humanity in eastern Burma" deals with the Burmese army's ongoing military offensive against ethnic Karen civilians.
The offensive, which began two years ago, has involved widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, according to the report.
Monks and students reject junta's constitution - Aye Nai
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 5 Jun 2008
The All-Burmese Monks' Alliance, 88 Generation Students and All Burma Federation of Student Unions issued a joint statement yesterday rejecting the state constitution adopted by the military regime last week.
The organisations also urged the people of Burma and the international community not to accept the constitution that formally creates a repressive military class and legalises prolonged military rule in Burma.
Htun Myint Aung, a leader of the 88 Generation Students, told DVB that the statement was intended to firmly express that the constitution written in favour of the military and adopted by the junta by force was not acceptable.
"The constitution drafting process didn't follow democratic principles and it was written amid injustices," said Htun Myint Aung.
"The essence of the constitution doesn't reflect the public interest or that of ethnic nationalities; it is just systematically structured to permit a long-lasting military dictatorship in the country," he went on.
"Furthermore, it was adopted by force and deception and such a constitution is impossible to accept."
The statement stressed that parliamentarians elected in the 1990 election had not been allowed to participate in the constitution drafting process and citizens had been threatened and prevented from free participation in the process by degree 5/96 which mandated a prison term for critics of the National Convention.
Proposals put forward by ceasefire organisations for a federal system in Burma were also rejected.
In conclusion, the groups emphasised that the UN and the international community should not accept the "military constitution", which they said does not represent the will of the citizens.
"We have already documented how the national referendum was held amid gross injustice and deception and we are going to submit our findings to the UN, foreign governments and the international community," Htun Myint Aung said.
"We want the UN and international governments to know that diplomatic pressure does not work on Burma's military junta," he said.
"We want them to take practical and concrete action against the generals to stop their continuous repression and bring them to the negotiating table to solve the country's deep-rooted political impasse."
Rights group: Myanmar exchanging food for labor
Associated Press: Thu 5 Jun 2008
Myanmar's military regime has forced cyclone survivors to do menial labor in exchange for food and stepped up a campaign to evict displaced citizens from aid shelters, an international human rights group said Thursday.
London-based Amnesty International also said authorities in several cyclone-hit areas continue to divert aid despite the junta's pledge to crack down on the problem weeks ago.
"Unless human rights safeguards are observed, tens of thousands of people remain at risk," Amnesty said in a report released Thursday. "Respect for human rights must be at the center of the relief effort."
More than a month after the storm, many people in stricken areas still have not received any aid and the military regime continues to impose constraints on international rescue efforts, human rights groups say.
U.S. Navy ships laden with relief supplies steamed away from Myanmar's coast Thursday, their helicopters barred by the ruling junta even though millions of cyclone survivors need food, shelter or medical care.
The USS Essex group, which includes four ships, 22 helicopters and 5,000 U.S. military personnel, had been off the Myanmar coast for more than three weeks hoping for a green light to deliver aid to the survivors.
"The ruling military junta in Burma have done nothing to convince us that they intend to reverse their deliberate decision to deny much needed aid to the people of Burma," Lt. Denver Applehans said in an e-mail from the flotilla.
"Based on this, the decision was made to continue with previous operational commitments," Applehans said.
Adm. Timothy J. Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said in a statement Wednesday that the United States had made "at least 15 attempts" to convince the generals to allow them to deliver aid directly to victims in affected areas.
The government says Cyclone Nargis killed 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing.
Amnesty's report cites 40 accounts of Myanmar soldiers or local officials having confiscated, diverted or otherwise misused aid intended for cyclone survivors since the storm hit on May 2-3.
Although the junta has granted greater access to the hardest-hit Irrawaddy delta, "recent incidents of corruption and diversion of aid suggest a potentially serious threat to effective distribution of aid," the report said.
Most of the cases that were cited involved authorities confiscating aid from private donors or arresting them for refusing to hand the aid over.
A major U.N. agency on Monday, however, caught junta officials trying to divert their aid after the officials insisted on accompanying the U.N. workers who were delivering it, Amnesty spokesman Benjamin Zawacki told a news conference in Bangkok. He declined to give additional details.
The report also cites several cases of forced labor in exchange for food in the delta.
In mid-May, people near the hard-hit delta township of Bogale were forced to "break rocks and level a field" to construct a helicopter landing pad in exchange for biscuits sent by the U.N.'s World Food Program, the report said.
Others in Bogale were given rice soup and shelter on condition they cleared debris and built an official camp, the report said, adding that authorities told displaced survivors in nearby Labutta they would not receive food unless they worked.
Meanwhile, a campaign to kick homeless survivors out of temporary shelters in schools, monasteries and public buildings appears to have intensified.
"Movement has been increasingly widespread geographically," Zawacki said. "It violates the human rights of those people to food, to shelter, to health and, perhaps, the right to life."
The junta, which explicitly rejected the use of foreign military helicopters in the relief effort, still has not authorized the entry of nine civilian helicopters flying on behalf of the U.N. World Food Program, though they have been sitting in neighboring Thailand since last week.
Restrictions on visa and travel permission for foreign workers, as well as on entry of some equipment, continue to hamper the aid effort, despite a pledge made almost two weeks ago by junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe to U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon to allow foreign aid workers free access to devastated areas, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Of the 2.4 million people affected, only 1.3 million survivors have so far been reached with assistance by local and international humanitarian groups, the Red Cross and the U.N., said the U.N's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Indian cabinet approves bilateral investment promotion pact with Myanmar
Kuwait News Agency: Thu 5 Jun 2008
India Thursday approved Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with neighbouring Myanmar as part of efforts to boost business ties. "A meeting of the Indian Cabinet here today presided by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave its approval to Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with the Government of the Union of Myanmar and ratification thereof," according to an official statement issued after the meeting.
"The objective of Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements is to promote and protect the interests of investors of either country in the territory of the other country," the statement said, adding, "The Agreement will increase investment flow between India and Myanmar." The Agreement shall remain in force initially for a period of 10 years. To protect existing investments, it has been provided that in respect of investments made before the termination of the Agreement, its provisions shall continue in effect with respect to those investments for a period of 15 years after the date of termination.
Burma and the Bush Administration: It's time to intervene - Benedict Rogers and Joseph Loconte
The Weekly Standard: Thu 5 Jun 2008
THANKS LARGELY TO THE INHUMANITY of Burma's military dictatorship, the cyclone that devastated the country a month ago has left about 133,000 people dead or missing. Delayed and obstructed by the ruling junta, international assistance has yet to reach about a quarter of a million people affected by the storm. While the hopes and livelihoods of many have been swept away, there remains a lingering delusion: the notion that the "international community" retains either the moral sensibility or political will to confront the most despotic of regimes. The crisis in Burma confirms the indispensable need for American leadership.
The Burmese regime is guilty of atrocities far worse than the "criminal neglect" Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ascribes to them. It is guilty of crimes against humanity. Prior to the cyclone, the regime received dozens of warnings from India that the storm was on its way - yet did nothing to prepare its citizens. When the cyclone struck, the government sat on its hands and refused international help. Neither material aid nor aid workers were allowed to reach the victims, causing the needless deaths of tens of thousands. A trickle of assistance has gotten in, but aid workers are still restricted and much relief has been seized and sold on the streets. The junta now declares the relief phase is over: Its military thugs are forcibly evicting thousands of people from their shelters, even though they have no homes to return to. An estimated 2.5 million people have been displaced by this crisis.
While the United Nations has mostly ignored Burma, the Bush administration has put a spotlight on the regime. Apart from some helpful actions by the European Union, though, the United States has acted virtually alone in opposing the regime and supporting democratic resistance groups. The Bush White House has applied targeted sanctions against the government and brought numerous resolutions before the U.N. Security Council. In 2005, Bush met with a Burmese democratic dissident, Charm Tong, for 40 minutes in the Oval Office, to show solidarity and discuss the human rights situation in her country. Last September, in his annual address to the United Nations, Bush announced a new round of U.S. sanctions. Last month he again called for the release of all political prisoners and negotiations with democratic leaders. Meanwhile, First Lady Laura Bush has spoken out in defense of the Burmese people. She has written op-eds, held press conferences, hosted U.N. briefings, and pressed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to take a harder line. The United States has the toughest and, in reality, the only meaningful foreign policy to confront the Burmese government.
Few nations match Burma for its record of atrocities. The ruling junta has carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against its ethnic minorities, involving the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war, the forcible conscription of child soldiers, human minesweepers, torture, murder, and the destruction of over 3,200 villages. More than a million people have been internally displaced by military offensives aimed almost exclusively at civilians. Hundreds of thousands have fled to camps in Thailand or into India and Bangladesh.
While U.N. human rights bodies have given lip service to the cause of democracy, the Burmese leadership has assaulted its nation's fledgling democratic movement. The National League for Democracy (NLD) won elections in 1990 with more than 82 per cent of the parliamentary seats, but the junta rejected the results and imprisoned the victors. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Laureate and leader of NLD, has spent more than 12 years under house arrest. Last month her detention was extended yet again - a fact loudly criticized by the Bush administration. More than 1,800 Burmese languish as political prisoners.
President Bush's "democracy agenda" is widely criticized for its failings and inconsistencies: Oil-producing autocrats, for example, get little attention. Yet the White House has made a significant, and surprising, investment in Burma's struggle for democratic freedom. It is surprising because Burma represents little strategic value to the United States. Domestic political pressure for U.S. engagement is, at best, minimal. Indeed, until the "Saffron Revolution" - in which peaceful demonstrations by Buddhist monks were brutally put down - Burma seldom received media attention.
The spectacle of Burma's self-induced catastrophe may yet prod political and media elites to admit an unpleasant possibility: There may be a certain moral necessity to Bush's democracy agenda after all.
Given the unflinching paralysis of the U.N. Security Council over Burma, what should the United States do? The United States, with a democratic coalition that could include Great Britain and France, should prepare immediately to intervene in Burma to ensure humanitarian aid reaches the tens of thousands of cyclone victims whose lives are still at risk. Defense Secretary Gates recently ruled out such action, but President Bush could overturn his judgment, given the ongoing humanitarian disaster.
U.N. apologists would decry a U.S.-led intervention as a breach of international law - but only by ignoring the "responsibility to protect" doctrine adopted by U.N. member states nearly three years ago. Under the U.N. doctrine, nations agree to take all possible measures - including the use of force - to protect civilians from gross human rights abuses. If the deliberate and calculated failure to protect and assist its own population in the face of a devastating catastrophe does not invoke the U.N. mandate, what does?
An intervention of this kind, even with its humanitarian objective, would not be without its risks. Yet the costs of inaction - the deaths of thousands of people, the emboldening of a murderous regime, the perception of American weakness - must also be weighed.
"Intervention will be seen as divine intervention by the Burmese people, not only to help the cyclone victims but also to finally free the entire nation from the military yoke," wrote a coalition of Burmese democracy groups to President Bush. "Please do not compare Burma with Iraq, because Buddhist monks, students, Burmese patriots will happily assist you with whatever you need to go inside Burma and help the cyclone victims and entire nation Many concerned Burmese citizens are willing to join the intervention. Please do not waste precious time."
Burma represents an opportunity not only to save lives, but to rescue the principle of humanitarian intervention from the forces of cynicism and moral cowardice. That may not amount to a final vindication of the Bush doctrine. But it could prove to be one of the most important legacies of his administration.
Benedict Rogers is a human rights officer with the London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide and author of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People. Joseph Loconte is a senior fellow at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.
Burma still blocking cyclone aid effort
The Nation (Thailand): Thu 5 Jun 2008
Asean needs to force the junta into seeing reason and opening up to international relief agencies
With hundreds of thousands of suffering people waiting for food, shelter and medicine, the Burmese junta continues to play cat and mouse with the international relief agencies. Thousands of lives could be saved if General Than Shwe really does what he promised to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when the two met in mid-May. Although visas for UN-related relief officials were given, others faced delays. Journalists are unable to gain access to Burma. There are no reports from and no cameras allowed inside the affected areas. So, the outside world does not know what is going on, except from the government-run media and word from international relief officials passing through Bangkok.
After Cyclone Nargis ripped through the Irrawaddy Delta, the US, UK and France dispatched warships loaded with food, water and makeshift shelters to help the victims. But the junta leaders stopped them from coming too close to land. So the French ships had to dump the supplies in Phuket for later trans-shipment into Burma. The UK also decided to withdraw its ships, which were in position to provide for the most needy victims in the area. The US finally decided to move its ships away, knowing full well that more lives could be saved. Already, several Western countries are commenting that the junta leaders are guilty of criminal neglect.
The US ships have the capacity to deliver huge amounts of emergency relief materials, at least 800 tonnes per day, which far exceeds the junta's own capacity. The US vessels are well-equipped with helicopters that can carry food and water to inaccessible areas. But the regime fears that these military vehicles would be used to dislodge them from power. How can you overthrow a government with helicopters flying around with food supplies ready to be dropped?
Even Asean is annoyed by Burma's behaviour. Malaysia is adamant that more cooperation from Rangoon is needed. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak urged Burma to allow military helicopters from Asean to get in to help with the relief effort. So far, there has not been any answer. The 200-member Asean Assessment Team, along with international experts, is carrying out a much-needed assessment in Labutta and Pyapon that will be a basis for future recovery efforts.
If Burma continues to drag its feet, the UN Security Council must take up the issue and work out ways to save thousands of Burmese lives. A resolution that enables air drops should be considered. It is unfortunate that the responsibility to protect, which the UN agreed in 2005 as one of the principles governing international relations in the 21st century, does not explicitly include the effects of disasters. But the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis and the junta's heartless reaction should be a case study for further action or amendment to the principle. Otherwise, every time there is a crisis, no action can be taken.
Gen Than Shwe knows how to take advantage of the UN and Asean. So far, the general has been able to play the two leading organisations against each other. Of late, representatives from the UN and Asean have been working in tandem to ensure there is no misunderstanding. In press conferences, foreign relief workers have complained that in the weeks to come an operational quagmire will start and the Burmese people pay the price. Asean needs to push Burma for more access. As a regional organisation, Asean has already served as a facilitator that has won some concessions from Burma. But that is not enough to save lives. Asean has a responsibility to see to it that its rogue member cooperates fully, without discrimination. The grouping has to back its secretary-general Surin and his work with a full mandate.
The next few months will be decisive for the future of Burma and Asean. Any delay will further jeopardise the rescue operation and will destroy the goodwill that Asean needs.