Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, March 5 — While inside UN Headquarters television crews covering Sudan’s President Bashir’s indictment on Wednesday chased quotes from the human rights elite and the Ambassador of Liechtenstein, across First Avenue in a small conference room the indictment of Myanmar’s General Than Shwe was urged with almost no coverage.
Alongside a small plate of cookies there were flyers describing “hundreds of cases of rape, forced pregnancy and murder” and over 450,000 “Burmese deemed to be internally displaced in eastern Burma.” There were no reporters, save one. This is a great day for international justice, one of the speakers said. There is no obstacle to indicting Than Shwe than our own thinking, she added, saying that China has been meeting in secret with the National League for Democracy, hedging its bets about Than Shwe.
Earlier on Wednesday, Inner City Press asked Human Rights Watch’s Richard Dicker if HRW is urging the Security Council to refer to the International Criminal Court Than Shwe, Kim Jong-Il in North Korea and even, as has been requested, some in Sri Lanka. He replied that Sri Lanka, like Myanmar, is not a member of the ICC. Neither is Sudan; HRW among others pushed to get the Council to make the referral.
In the conference room with cookies, Naw Htoo Paw and Khin Sann Htwe of the Thailand-based Women’s League of Burma spoke passionately about the lack of freedom in their country, and their refusal to accept the 2008 constitution, which was pushed through just after Cyclone Nargis in a campaign in which it was illegal to speak against the constitution.
Myanmar presentation, “good luck” says UN’s Gambari
The speakers called the result one of “gender apartheid,” noting that 25% of the seats have to go to those with military backgrounds, and that the two military academies do not accept women. It was unclear if they would like Than Shwe’s schools to open themselves to women.
Earlier in the week, Inner City Press had asked two UN constitution experts whether their seemingly laudable work, in Timor Leste and Afghanistan, is undercut by the UN considering assisting with an election based on a constitution like Myanmar’s. Neither of the two would answer; later, one of them said that the decisions about Myanmar are being made elsewhere in the UN. But where?
Wednesday night at a surreal “gala for spirulina,” Inner City Press caught up with Ibrahim Gambari, and told him of the call to indict Than Shwe. “Good luck,” he said. He has previously criticized moralizing Western powers who demand changes in Myanmar but don’t take steps to bring them about.
The speakers with the cookies had a simple answer: the policy that has not worked in Myanmar is one of appeasement, of trying to “talk a war criminal into rehab.” They described Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Myanmar, and consideration of a second trip, as “desperate and embarrassing,” notice the Than Shwe wouldn’t even take Ban’s telephone call.
Like that, there seemed a huge disconnect Wednesday between the hoopla about Sudan, and the relative obscurity of those worried about Myanmar, much less Sri Lanka. The Burma campaigners are at least at the fringe of the UN debate. Those concerned with Sri Lanka are not even present. The Security Council had a single briefing on the topic; March’s plan of work does not include it, even as a footnote. Will the Council meet about Bashir? Watch this space.