- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Tyra R. Saechao and Sujeet B. Rao were right to say that extending the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (R2P) to natural disasters would stretch the doctrine thin (“Aid for Myanmar,” Op-Ed,May 30), but they miss the point in the case of Myanmar.

There is ample evidence that the regime is systematically committing crimes against its own civilians, including: torture, gang rape of ethnic women and systematic sexual violence, slavery, murder, mass imprisonment, forced labor, persecution of dissidents, conscription of child soldiers and forced relocation.

The recent refusal of international assistance after Cyclone Nargis is another in a series of grave crimes of omission and commission perpetrated by the regime.

The actions of the Myanmar regime are not merely human-rights violations, but are grave criminal violations of international humanitarian and human-rights law, including breaches of the Geneva Conventions and Genocide Convention, both of which Myanmar has ratified.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), monitor of international humanitarian law, issued a rare public statement to the international community on June 29, 2007, verifying the regime’s criminal violations of the Geneva Conventions, which were personally observed by ICRC delegates, and that the crimes by the government were likely to be ongoing.

The ICRC called on the international community to follow through with its commitments “to respect and to ensure respect for the [Geneva] Conventions.”

The ongoing situation in Myanmar is precisely the type of situation for which R2P was adopted by the U.N. Security Council in Resolution 1674. All U.N. efforts to bring about change in Myanmar have failed.

Despite repeated and extensive international condemnation of the regime, long-running economic sanctions, and multiple U.N. envoys and special rapporteurs making over 35 trips to Myanmar, Senior Gen. Than Shwe and his regime continue to wage one of the most protracted campaigns of violent oppression in the world.

A treaty regime, as suggested by Ms. Saechao and Mr. Rao, is an excellent idea, and the Tampere Convention provides an excellent platform for such an endeavor. Myanmar, however, is not among the 36 states that have signed the Tampere Convention. It is highly unlikely that Myanmar would join any other treaty that allowed for what the regime considers to be external interference with its internal affairs.

A treaty regime, while something the international community should certainly pursue, is not an effective course of action in dealing with states such as Myanmar.

Invocation of Resolution 1674 and R2P is appropriate in the case of Myanmar. Tens of thousands of people who could have been saved have died in the cyclone’s aftermath in Myanmar because the criminal regime that runs the country cares more about concealing its crimes and maintaining its power than helping its people.

This should be a wake-up call to the international community: The impunity must end. The Security Council should refer Senior Gen. Than Shwe and his regime to the International Criminal Court and set an example for regimes in which inability or unwillingness to act in the face of a natural disaster exacerbates the atrocities they already carry out against their people.

LINDSEY CALLAHAN

Associate,

Global Justice Center

New York

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