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Globe Editorial

Disillusioned in Burma

July 10, 2009
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TRUE TO form, Burma’s military dictator, General Than Shwe, showed only disdain when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited that tortured land last weekend. Than Shwe and the other four generals in the ruling junta denied Ban’s requests for a democratic evolution. To his credit, Ban spoke out afterward, asking, “How much longer can Burma afford to wait for national reconciliation, democratic transition and full respect for human rights?’’

Now that he has seen experienced the junta leader’s inflexibility firsthand, Ban must confront the question: What can the world body do to help liberate the people of Burma? The narco-trafficking regime there has forced people into labor, used systematic rape as a weapon of war, and conducted brutal army offenses that uprooted hundreds of thousands of people from minority ethnic groups.

Ban had the right idea. Upon arriving in Burma, he planned to ask for the release of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and 2,100 other political prisoners. He would call for reconciliation with Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, landslide winners of Burma’s last free election in 1990, a mandate the junta never honored. Ban also wanted to foster humanitarian aid and economic development.

But after Than Shwe refused to cede to any of these requests, Ban got the message. “Neither peace nor development can thrive without democracy and respect for human rights,’’ he told diplomats and aid agencies.

Ban is mistaken, however, if he thinks that proper monitoring will legitimize an election scheduled for 2010 - an exercise rigged to perpetuate military rule with a civilian patina. Burmese democratic activist Win Tin has observed that the true barrier to democracy in Burma is not the mechanics of next year’s balloting but the junta’s “unjust constitution.’’ That document bars Suu Kyi from participating, reserves 25 percent of seats in Parliament for the military, and practically guarantees the generals and their cronies an overwhelming majority.

If Ban really wants to help the people of Burma, he should side with the 55 members of the US Congress who recently signed a letter to President Obama urging him “to take the lead in establishing a United Nations Security Council Commission of Inquiry into the Burmese military regime’s crimes against humanity and war crimes against its civilian population.’’ Such commissions were instituted for Rwanda and Darfur. Nothing less is needed if the UN, that would-be parliament of nations, is to fulfill its commitment to protect the peoples of the world from criminal rulers.

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