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All that glitters is not gold; lesson from Laura Bush for

the UN and ASEAN

Myat Soe
Monday, 25 August 2008 18:03

In 2001, the UN Human Rights Rapporteur, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, asked

ASEAN and the UN to help promote an all inclusive, accountable,
transparent and democratic transition in Burma. When the United
Nations Security Council held an informal briefing on the situation in
Burma for the first time, in December 2006, delegates again urged
Burmese authorities to resume dialogue with representatives from all
ethnic and political opposition parties in Burma. And after the Saffron
Revolution last fall it became even more urgent to hold a political
dialogue between the military, pro-democracy forces and the ethnic
leaders in Burma.

However, to this date, Burma's authoritarian regime justifies its hold on

absolute power by declaring their political opponents as enemies of the
state. The Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) is determined to remain strong;
believing any weakness within the military will create opportunities for
ethnic rebellion and secession – even though there is little evidence to
suggest that most of Burma's minorities are trying to break away from
the state.

Now, Burma has reached a point where international involvement is

greatly needed to achieve peace in the country. The military is
struggling under the burden of an over-extended army and is failing
the economy. The time is now ripe for a stronger and more effective
international diplomatic intervention.

The United Nations and its envoys have been busy since the Burmese
government began cracking down on peaceful demonstrators after the
Saffron uprising. But almost a year later, the military continues its
oppressive rule, and instead of getting better, the lives of Burmese
people have become worse under increased government abuses and
deteriorating living conditions.

Protest leaders and monks from the recent mass demonstrations,

including Su Su Nway and Ashin Gambira, were imprisoned even while
Pinheiro was in Burma. The United Nations has responded to Burma's
crisis by issuing press statements of regret and sorrow at the
continuing large scale violent oppression inside the country.

After fourteen years, the junta persists in pushing through its seven-
step roadmap to democracy, which, according to student leader Min Ko
Naing, will give members of the military an unfair advantage over
ordinary citizens in the quest of political power; and without a free and
fair political system to guarantee peace and prosperity, Burma's legacy
of violence and bloodshed will continue.

After the Saffron Revolution last September, and in spite of the efforts
by the UN Secretary General and his Envoy, the Burmese regime not
only refused to meet with political opposition and the ethnic leaders
but instead continued imprisoning revered monks, 88 generation
student leaders, NLD leaders – including both U Tin Oo and Aung San
Suu Kyi – and ethnic leaders like Khun Htun Oo.

Michael Vatikiotis, a regional representative of the Henry Dunant

Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, said that the recent constitutional
referendum in Burma is more bad news for the international
community's determined effort to encourage a peaceful political
transition in the country.

While the mass demonstration was gaining momentum last

September, ASEAN's Secretary General, Ong Keng Yong, said on
September 23rd that he was not sure what ASEAN Foreign Ministers
could do, and only hoped that Burmese authorities would find a way to
handle the situation in a peaceful manner. But instead of moving
toward political change, the regime continues to severely punish those
who refuse to endorse the army's political road map. Even as Burma
was struck by powerful Cyclone Nargis, Burma's military continued its
vicious campaign against peaceful monks, political opposition
members and helpless ethnic villagers – ever tightening its grip on

During the months following the Saffron Revolution, Ibrahim Gambari,

the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy to Burma, met with Aung
San Suu Kyi about three times to exchange necessary views. But there
has not been any progress and the military regime does not seem to
have a real interest in pursuing a genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu
Kyi or any other element within the opposition. Even Charles Petrie, the
top UN diplomat, was thrown out of Burma for speaking the truth about
the human rights situation inside the country.

After three meetings between Gambari and Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's
political prisoners are still not free, political parties are still not allowed
to peacefully function and basic human rights are still brazenly
violated. Thus the time has now come for the UN Secretary General
and his Envoy to report to the world that their efforts have been a
Even a veneer of cooperation is no more, since the meetings between
the junta's liaison, Deputy Labor Minister Aung Kyi, and Aung San Suu
Kyi have also stopped. Further, by absenting herself from the latest
meeting with Gambari, Aung San Suu Kyi may be protesting that a
passive response by the UN alone is not enough to save Burma.

The Burmese military has not only treated their own people with cold-
blooded brutality, they have also responded with contempt to the
international community's call for genuine political reconciliation in
Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi's protest is a reminder that the international
community should no longer remain indifferent to the Burmese
government's continuing violence against the people in Burma.

During his latest trip, groups introduced by the regime to Gambari as

representatives of 88 generation students and the NLD were only
military sanctioned gangs operating under the auspices of the junta
and lacked credibility with the opposition. Some of those introduced to
Gambari were family members and subordinates of the ruling junta,
not the legitimate representatives of the people.

The Burmese regime continues to mock the world by continuing its

policy of ethnic cleansing while engaging with the United Nations. After
brutally suppressing the people's uprising, the Burmese regime simply
broke promises made to the UN to hold an all-inclusive political
reconciliation process. Instead they continue their brutal ways to
reward those who committed atrocities against their monks and

It is now possible to believe that the top most powerful generals, Than
Shwe, Maung Aye and their cronies, resemble Saddam Hussein's ruling
clique in Iraq.

In order to satisfy the whim of the ruling elites in power, even high
ranking military leaders are routinely purged. Some of the senior
military members who have been punished in the past included Major
General Tin U, Major General Khin Nyunt, Lieutenant General Ye Myint,
Lieutenant General Aung Htwe, Lieutenant General Kyaw Win and
Lieutenant General Khin Maung Than. They were forced to resign,
imprisoned, or even executed.

It is widely believed inside Burma that personal greed of the top two
generals, Than Shwe and Maung Aye, is responsible for obliterating
Burma's chance for peace.

It is speculated that as long as Than Shwe, Maung Aye and their

cronies are in power, finding an honorable way out of the increasingly
volatile situation in Burma may be impossible; and without peace there
will be no hope for the return of prosperity.

While the world's most important leaders continue to sleep on Burma's

tragedy, one gentle and graceful lady called Laura Bush has stood up
for the people of Burma. Her legacy as First Lady of the United States
may not necessarily be only of political correctness. Her legacy may
also include her decisiveness in standing up for the people who needed
her most when the world's most powerful men were reluctant.

The recent portraits of her with Burmese refugees should put all those
men in the United Nations and the ASEAN to shame. They should learn
from her the right way of constructive engagement by standing up for
the brave people of Burma instead of enriching the military dictators.

All that glitters is not gold, even after the Olympics; for the shine from
medals alone will not erase the horrible truth about powerful nations
like China and how they supply weapons to the genocidal government
in Burma. How much can dangling gold medals be worth compared to
real courage, sacrifice and human dignity? After all, a material world
devoid of human hearts is not really worth living in, no matter how
many gold medals you can count.

There is no more time to dance around the issue. It is time for Gambari
to face the music and report to the world about the hard reality inside

(The writer Myat Soe is a former Central Executive Committee member

of All Burma Federation of Student Unions (1988) and currently serves
as the Research Director of Justice for Human Rights in Burma. He
graduated from Indiana University, and earned his MBA from Indiana
Wesleyan University.)