- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

U.S. scolds Burma

The United States introduced a Security Council resolution Tuesday demanding that Burma’s military junta release political prisoners and follow other accepted human rights norms. The gesture — and that’s pretty much all it was, given the clear opposition of several council members — had been promised by Laura Bush during a U.N. visit in September.

Russia and China voted against the resolution, while three elected council members — Qatar, Indonesia and Republic of the Congo — abstained.

Qatar has had little trouble voting with the Eastern bloc in its first year on the council, but the other two are new council members, and their apparent indecisiveness does not augur well for their tenure on the council.

Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya relished the opportunity to jettison the draft, with its call to halt military attacks on ethic minorities and improve cooperation with international humanitarian aid groups.

“I am ready to veto it,” he told The Washington Times on Thursday, a day before the vote. “I haven’t gotten to veto anything for four years.”

One imagines the cheerful negotiations between Mr. Wang and Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, coincidentally the president of the council for January, over who would get to vote first. (It was a simultaneous show of hands and the first time the two jointly vetoed a resolution in 35 years.)

To be sure, no nation actually defended the government of Burma, whose military rulers call the country Myanmar. However, several questioned whether the energy-rich but impoverished nation should be dealt with by the Security Council or the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

Indonesia, which replaced Japan on the council Jan. 1, was especially vocal in calling for the issue to be brought to the HRC.

Washington, noting that the HRC was reluctant to criticize any country other than Israel, defended its decision to force the doomed resolution to a vote.

The United States would have no problem seeing the issue addressed in Geneva, said acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro D. Wolff. But he urged council members to do their part to show support for the Burmese people.

“The calls for reform, democratization, inclusive national dialogue, release of political prisoners, all of those things we will continue to work on every day and in every manner we can, and hopefully with the support of every member of this council,” he told reporters after the vote.

Capital punishment

Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro likely will not take up her daily duties until mid-February, said U.N. officials, but she will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today and begin getting a sense of the 38th floor operation she soon will be joining.

And it could be that Mrs. Migiro will turn out to be as candid (although surely less confrontational) as her predecessor, Mark Malloch Brown.

Asked about her view on capital punishment, which tripped up her new boss on his way into work Jan. 2, Mrs. Migiro was bracingly clear: “Scrapping of [the] death penalty is not an individual state’s wish but one of U.N. policies because it contravenes U.N. principles of humanity, human rights and equality,” she said.

The Nation newspaper in Nairobi quoted her as saying, “I will help my superior ensure that all member states implement the policy.”

Capital punishment, which is legal in scores of U.N. member states, is traditionally an area in which the world body defers to national laws. But Mr. Ban, at a press conference on Thursday, urged members to outlaw capital punishment out of respect for human life.

“I recognize the growing trend in international law and in national practice toward a phasing out of the death penalty. I encourage that trend,” Mr. Ban said.

“As member states are taking their decisions, I expect they will comply with all aspects of international human rights law.”

Betsy Pisik can be reached at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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