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UN Publicly Admits Scale of Burma Crisis for First Time (click to view PDF)

For Immediate Release
March 30, 2007
Contact: Aung Din: (202) 234-8022

(Washington, DC)
The US Campaign for Burma today praised the United Nations representative on human rights to the Southeast Asian country of Burma for becoming the first UN official to acknowledge the severity of the catastrophe in the eastern section of the country.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council that “Reliable and independent sources estimate that between 1996 and 2006, 3,077 separate incidents of destruction, relocation or abandonment of villages have been documented.”

Jeremy Woodrum, Campaigns Director of USCB reacted by saying that, “3,000 villages have been burned or otherwise destroyed by Burma’s brutal military regime in eastern Burma, but the true scale of this crisis has never been acknowledged by the UN before now. We hope that Mr. Pinheiro’s statement will lead new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to call for an immediate 

response by the UN Security Council since these attacks are continuing to this very day. What is Ban Ki-moon waiting for?”

In May 2006, the US Campaign for Burma began encouraging the United Nations to acknowledge the severity of the Burmese military regime’s attacks on civilians in eastern Burma – specifically, to admit that 3,000 villages had been burned or otherwise destroyed by the military regime and over 1 million people had been forced to flee from their homes. In December, activists sent over 3,000 postcards to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, each postcard representing each village that had been destroyed by the military regime.

Annan never acknowledged the number while in office and his special envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari never even bothered to visit the more than 1 million refugees who have fled the regime.

“The new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should right this wrong and use his position to press for immediate Security Council action on Burma. The longer he waits, the more people in eastern Burma will die.”

The push for a UN Security Council resolution comes after 10 years of failed UN efforts on Burma. The UN General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights have passed a total of 29 consecutive resolutions calling for change in Burma and sent envoys on dozens of trips to the country. Their requests have been ignored by the military regime. Unlike these other UN bodies, however, decisions by the Security Council are binding.

In September 2006 the Security Council voted to place Burma on its formal agenda for the first time in history, where it remains today. In January, the Council considered its first-ever resolution on Burma and garnered enough votes to pass, but was vetoed by Russia and China.

Burma is ruled by one of the world’s most brutal military dictatorships, led by General Than Shwe. Besides locking up Aung San Suu Kyi (the world’s only incarcerated Nobel Peace Prize recipient and elected leader of the country) and over 1,200 other political prisoners, Than Shwe’s regime has destroyed over 3,000 ethnic minority villages in a scorched earth policy
 designed to root out all opposition to its rule. Over one million refugees have fled the country, while an additional ½ million remain internal refugees, where many are hunted down and killed like animals.

South Africa‘s Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Czech President Vaclav Havel are leading an effort to press the UN Security Council to take action on Burma. The effort is supported by 13 Nobel Peace Prize recipients and a slew of celebrities including Tim Robbins, Peter Gabriel, and others.