December 16, 2005

Security Council Has First-Ever Discussion of Situation in Burma

(WASHINGTON, D.C.
DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary LLP)

Václav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, and Desmond M. Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, today offered measured praise to the UN Security Council for holding a groundbreaking discussion on the situation in Burma. They also commended the United States, which spearheaded the effort, and Romania and the United Kingdom, which provided leadership on the initiative through their service as President of the Security Council in October and December respectively.

President Havel and Archbishop Tutu also commended the European Parliament for calling on the UN Security Council to address the situation in Burma as a matter of urgency and to empower the UN Secretary-General to mediate in Burma to bring about national reconciliation and a transition to democracy.

The first-ever discussion on Burma came almost three months after the release of a report commissioned by Havel and Tutu calling for the UN Security Council to act. The 125-page report, prepared by global law firm DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, compared the situation in Burma to other countries in which the Security Council has previously intervened in internal conflicts because of the transnational issues implicated.

The report detailed the deterioration that has occurred in Burma stemming from the rule of the current military regime, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). In 1990, the then-ruling military regime permitted democratic elections to take place, only to refuse to honor the results when the National League for Democracy (NLD) won over 80 percent of the seats in parliament. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi remains the world’s only Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who is in detention.

The debate was held after the United States and Romania spearheaded an international effort to organize 9 votes (out of 15 total) required under UN rules to place the situation of Burma on the Security Council’s agenda. Both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice used their recent trip to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in South Korea to press for action. Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy, publicly called for UN Security Council action as did the leadership of Burma’s ethnic nationalities. Numerous newspapers, including the Washington Post, Boston Globe, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, The Nation (Bangkok), Washington Times, Christian Science Monitor, and The Times (London) offered editorial support for the Havel-Tutu Report.

After 10 countries agreed to call for a debate, China and Russia, who had previously blocked a discussion, agreed to support by consensus a “consultation of the whole” in which the Secretary General’s office will brief the Council on its efforts in Burma.

“This is only a first step, and the UN Security Council must show that it is serious about follow-up. The UN Security Council action could represent a new dawn for change in Burma,” said President Havel. “The people in Burma need to know that the international community, represented in this case by the Security Council, did not forget their plight.”

Added Archbishop Tutu, “I am pleased that the Council found a way to cooperate on Burma, but I hope this can be cemented in a Security Council resolution. This should not be a one-off affair and the Council must remain vigilant. Inspired by this movement, Secretary-General Kofi Annan should vigorously pursue national reconciliation in Burma. The international community must remain engaged in pursuing a process of irreversible and meaningful dialogue that will ensure that national reconciliation is achieved in Burma.”

Both leaders stressed that the discussion by the Council was only a first step and reiterated their comments made in the report Threat to the Peace: A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in Burma: “Our interest in Burma goes back many years as we have followed its struggle to achieve peace and national reconciliation.” Strongly urging the UN Security Council follow up on this discussion, President Havel and Archbishop Tutu said: “Burma’s troubles are causing serious and possibly permanent problems that go well beyond human rights violations. Burma has now become a problem for the region and international community.”

The debate represents a breakthrough on Burma at the UN Security Council as it had been widely presumed that China and Russia would use their threat of a veto on a substantive resolution to prevent a discussion from even taking place. Instead, the Security Council signaled by consensus that after 28 total resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly and UN Commission on Human Rights, all of which have been summarily ignored by the ruling military regime, it was time for the Security Council to hold the debate. The refusal of Burma’s military regime to work with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and its recent extension of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest for another six months may have also played a role.

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