Contact: Roland Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org
KNU ON THE POSITIONS OF THE UN AND THE EU
21 July 2004
Dictator Watch has interviewed David Tharckabaw, head of the Karen National Union
Information Department, about the positions of the United Nations and the European
Union towards Burma.
The United Nations has a moral obligation to intercede in Burma because of the
widespread, severe and systematic commission of human rights violations by the
ruling regime, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).
This extends to a legal or organizational responsibility, because the dictatorship
is a major contributor to regional instability and hence international instability.
Burma lies at the crossroads of South and Southeast Asia, and it borders China.
It is the central point in the most populated region of the world. It is the leading
source of narcotics, is heavily involved in the proliferation of arms, and is
causing massive forced migration, throughout the region. It is even arguable that
its behavior, particularly the campaign of "4 Cuts" against the Karen
and the other ethnic nationalities of the country, rises to the level of genocide.
In late June, the KNU sent a private communication to Kofi Annan requesting that
he make the problems inside and emanating from Burma a major agenda item for the
U.N. The Secretary-General should ensure that the need for, and the means to accomplish,
a democratic transition in Burma is aggressively considered in both the Security
Council and the General Assembly. The United Nations must do more than pass non-binding
The KNU are specifically calling for:
- An international arms embargo against the SPDC.
- U.N. implementation of the sanctions already imposed by the U.S., including
targeted sanctions against the natural resources trade out of Burma (timber, minerals
and natural gas, and marine products).
- Expulsion of Burma from the General Assembly until such time as the democratically-elected
government of the country, the National League for Democracy, is able to send
The KNU has yet to receive a response to its communication. Further, on 15 July,
the KNU leaders met a deputy of Kofi Annan in Mae Sot. This individual had not
heard of the communication, and responded dismissively that many such letters
have been received in New York. (Dictator Watch note: Apparently, sending a letter
to Kofi Annan has the same effect as sending a petition to Senior General Than
Shwe - none whatsoever.)
The usual response from the UN personnel, in the past and at the present, is that
Burma could not be considered in the Security Council because the forum is reserved
for threats to international security and peace, and also because action in the
Council requires a sponsoring state. For the first, this is a narrow definition
of responsibility. "International peace" apparently means "world
peace," in the sense that a nation, to be considered, must constitute a threat
approximate to that of Germany under Hitler.
This is a bureaucratic excuse - a way to avoid responsibility. The SPDC are a
threat to international security and peace. Similarly, the statement that a member
nation must raise the issue in the Security Council, while technically correct,
is also a bureaucratic response. It suggests that the deliberations of member
states and UN officials occur in isolation. Apparently, in the U.N. free discourse
between nations is discouraged and the Secretary-General personally feels powerless
to initiate action on critical issues.
However, there is now a major emphasis on the Darfur region of the Sudan, which
has been termed the "world's worst humanitarian crisis." For Darfur,
the initiation of Security Council proceedings and even sanctions is being widely
What is the difference between the Sudan and Burma? The ethnic cleansing in Burma
is also a major humanitarian crisis. Is the United Nations only able to address
one crisis at a time, the one it considers to be the worst? Must the effort to
secure peace and democracy in Burma be delayed until there is peace and democracy
in the Sudan?
U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland has commented:
"We are late on Darfur. We have to admit that." The U.N. is very late
Similarly, the European Union has moral grounds to support democracy in Burma
and to work to halt the perpetration of human rights abuses. Europe should understand,
given its own experience of ultranationalism run amok and which caused so much
death and destruction, that engagement with the SPDC will not work. The dictatorship
must be fought with the strongest possible means.
For the Karen people of Burma, for all the people of Burma, at an absolute minimum
the E.U. should not participate in ASEM if any officials of the SPDC attend. The
E.U. should also strengthen and expand its sanctions, and call for U.N. Security
The main argument that the SPDC use to justify their rule is that only they can
prevent the disintegration of the nation. This is not true. Those individuals
and groups who speak of independence are responding to the extreme persecution
to which they are subject. They cannot survive in Burma under the SPDC, hence
they must have independence. It is the SPDC that is splitting the country apart.
Also, when the dictatorship falls, there will not be a power vacuum. The National
League for Democracy, which has the support of the overwhelming majority of the
people (and which has also called for Security Council proceedings), is ready
to take its rightful place as the democratically elected government of Burma.