KIPGEN: Burma in the dock

U.S. support for U.N. war-crimes inquiry is in order

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

With just a little more than two months before the general election in Burma, scheduled for Nov. 7, the United States joined countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Slovakia for the creation of a United Nations-led commission to investigate purported war crimes by Burma’s military junta.

On Aug. 18, the White House in a statement said the commission could advance the cause of human rights in Burma by “addressing issues of accountability” for members of the regime. The Obama administration also hinted at the possibility of further sanctions.

Such a commission of inquiry against the military leaders also has been sought by the Burmese human rights groups. The issue gained prominence when Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, released a critical report to the Human Rights Council in March.

“According to consistent reports, the possibility exists that some of these human rights violations may entail categories of crimes against humanity or war crimes under the terms of the statute of the International Criminal Court,” Mr. Quintana said.

When the diplomatic engagement of the Obama administration, which began in September 2009, had not yielded the desired results, not too many options were available on the table.

During the past 11-month engagement, the Obama administration apparently has learned more about the intention and psychology of the Burmese military junta. This gives the White House an opportunity to redraw its strategy to better deal with the recalcitrant members of the State Peace and Development Council.

Washington has tried to reach out to the Burmese leadership through high-level visits. Kurt M. Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, visited the country in November 2009 and in May. Neither visit, however, yielded desired results.

The Obama administration anticipated a positive response from the junta. The administration’s primary demands, such as release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and creation of a free and fair environment before the general election, have not been implemented.

This disappointment has been exacerbated by reports of Burma seeking a nuclear program with support from North Korea. Moreover, the Obama administration has not ruled out tougher sanctions if and when warranted.

Because Washington has not achieved the desired objectives with its engagement policy, it has decided to back the establishment of a commission of inquiry.

This commission of inquiry could be implemented by the U.N. Human Rights Council, a U.N. General Assembly resolution, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon or a vote at the U.N. Security Council. It could lead eventually to a war-crimes prosecution.

Any attempt at the U.N. Security Council is likely to be opposed by veto-wielding China and perhaps by Russia. The case of the Bosnian war-crimes commission in the early 1990s was an example of the secretary-general initiating a case.

Though the prospects of a commission of inquiry to prosecute senior Gen. Than Shwe (Burma’s junta chief) is debatable, such action may help prevent the younger generation of the junta from committing more crimes against their own people.

Liberian ex-President Charles Taylor is on trial at The Hague for alleged war crimes. Sudan’s leader, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, was indicted in 2008 and has yet to be arrested. Slobodan Milosevic, the former leader of Serbia, was arrested after leaving office and tried for war crimes, although he died during the trial.

Since the Obama administration has embarked on endorsement of a commission of inquiry, it must further push the agenda to see it through to the end. A commitment from the U.N. secretary-general, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly and wider support from the international community are essential to its success.

Meanwhile, the United States should not abandon its engagement policy. The Obama administration needs to appoint a special representative for Burma, as was mandated by the Congress in 2008.

The special envoy, in consultation with other stakeholders, such as China, Russia, India, Japan, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union, needs to work toward coordinated international action on Burma.

Nehginpao Kipgen is general-secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • Maureen McDonnell looks on as her husband, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, made a statement on Tuesday after the couple was indicted on corruption charges. (associated press)

    PRUDEN: Where have the big-time grifters gone?

  • This photo taken Jan. 9, 2014,  shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gesturing as he answers a question during a news conference  at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme orchestrated by key aides. The early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will make a case Tuesday Jan. 14, 2014, that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically, according to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    BRUCE: Bombastic arrogance or humble determination? Chris Christie’s choice

  • ** FILE ** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    PRUDEN: The question to haunt the West

  • Get Breaking Alerts