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U.S. Campaign for Burma Welcomes Groundbreaking, First-Ever UN Security Council Debate on Burma, and Calls for Binding Resolution (click to view PDF)

Move comes after 28 consecutive resolutions at UN General Assembly and UN Commission on Human Rights failed to produce any changes in Burma

For Immediate Release

September 15th, 2006
Contact: Jeremy Woodrum: (202) 223-0300

(Washington, DC) The U.S. Campaign for Burma today welcomes the decision of the United Nations Security Council to place Burma on its formal agenda for the first time in history. The groundbreaking item was proposed by the United States on September 1, 2006 and was adopted today with the support of ten member countries including the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Greece, Slovakia, Japan, Peru, Argentina, and Ghana today. As a result, the first ever detailed discussion and debate on how to respond to the situation in Burma is expected in the near future.

“This groundbreaking first-ever discussion of Burma by the UN Security Council is a major breakthrough,” said Aung Din, policy director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. “We encourage all members on the Council to set aside old biases and take this first opportunity to work together constructively for the sake of Southeast Asia and the people of Burma.”

The decision comes as the situation in Burma has substantially worsened. Since November 2005, the Burmese military regime launched violent military offensives in Karen and Karenni States in Eastern Burma. The area is near the regime’s new capital city of Nay Pi Daw, which was officially announced last November just before the attacks. Dozens of villages were destroyed by the regime’s soldiers and nearly twenty thousand people were forced to flee from their villages into hiding in the nearby jungles and mountains. The military regime subsequently plotted landmines around the villages. Since 1996, the regime has destroyed over 2,800 villages in ethnic nationality areas, forcing up to two million citizens to flee their homes. Over one million Burmese now live in neighboring countries as refugees and illegal immigrants and at least 500,000 remain internally displaced inside Burma with nowhere to go. Although virtually unknown to the world, respected refugee organizations call the situation in Eastern Burma the most serious internal displacement crisis in Asia.

Meanwhile, in Rangoon the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi and over 1,100 political activists have been incarcerated after calling for a transition to democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi, known to many as the Nelson Mandela of Asia, led her political party to a landslide 82% victory in Burma’s last democratic election. The regime refused to permit those elected to assume office.

Worse, problems stoked by the military junta continue to spill across the country’s borders. In addition to committing systematic and egregious human rights violations against its own citizens, the Burmese military regime is also threatening neighboring countries with various acts of aggression, such as trafficking heroin and illicit drugs and driving out hundreds of thousands of refugees. The regime refuses to address HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases that transit across Burma’s porous borders, undermining regional stability and security. The regime’s failed economic system also allows for money laundering which provides a safe haven for wanted drug lords and criminals.

In a marked turnaround, the mood among Burma’s neighboring countries has shifted over the past year in favor of UN Security Council Action on Burma. In July, ASEAN Parliamentarians from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia and Burma, along with fellow Parliamentarians from India, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and European Parliament gathered in Malaysia for a two-day conference on Burma in which they called unanimously for the ASEAN governments to suspend Burma’s membership and asked the United Nations Security Council to put Burma on its formal agenda. Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, then-chairman of Standing Committee of ASEAN, acknowledged in his message to the Conference that it would be very difficult for ASEAN governments to ignore the views of their democratically elected legislators. He also acknowledged non-traditional threat posed by Burmese military regime to the region by saying that “We are now recognizing the reality of non-traditional security factors such as health, the spread of HIV-AIDS and bird flu, the trafficking of people”.

“I think that ASEAN would probably have no objection to that (UNSC debate on Burma) as such because we feel that Myanmar has good relations with the United Nations and so the issue is between the UN and Myanmar,” Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon told Reuters news agency on July 26, 2006. Another ASEAN member, the Philippines already supported the idea of a discussion of Burma at the UN Security Council when it was an alternate member in December 2005. Two other ASEAN members, Singapore and Indonesia, are also strong critics of the Burmese military junta for its failure to keep its promises on democratic reform in Burma and continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners. On August 25, 2006, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen met with ten members of ASEAN Parliamentarians, including two Burmese MPs in exile, at the Council of Ministers office in Phnom Penh, despite strong objection from Burmese junta. During two and a half hours discussion, Hun Sen strongly criticized Burmese regime as a problematic member in ASEAN.

In December 2005 and May 2006, the United Nations Security Council held its first-ever informal briefings to discuss Burma. It was a tremendous step in the right direction in addressing Burma’s crisis, and came after former Czech President Vaclav Havel and South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu commissioned a groundbreaking report that concluded only action by the UN Security Council can help bring about genuine national reconciliation. After the second briefing in May 2006, the U.S. Government announced its intention to ask the Council to adopt a binding resolution on Burma.

The move to put Burma on the formal agenda will be seen as a major step forward after the two informal debates in December 2005 and May 2006 and the regime’s continuing ignorance of the 28 consecutive resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly and UN Commission on Human Rights.