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The Failure of Gambari Mission in Burma
by Rohingya Human Rights
2008-04-14 08:13:44
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Turning a deaf ear to international outcries, Burma's military rulers are going to perpetuate military domination in running the state forever through unilaterally holding a referendum on May 10.2008 on a pro-military constitution which will not be possible to amend without the consent of the military representatives in the parliament, while the UN especial envoy Ibrahim Gambari who was appointed on a mission to restore peace, democracy and human rights in Burma through a meaningful participation of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic and ethnic minority leaders in the process of drafting a national constitution, has virtually reached to a position where the people of Burma can not see any ray of hope from his mission.

157681_400Notably, in the draft constitution the constitutional power has been given to the commander in chief to run the country, instead of vesting it in the people under the basic tenets of a democratic system. The commander in chief has been given the power to appoint 25 percent of the seats in both the upper and lower houses of parliament with hand picked military officials who will not be accountable to the people, but fully loyal to the commander in chief.

It also stipulates that no amendments to the charter can be made without the consent of more than 75 percent of lawmakers, making changes impossible without the support of the military representatives in Parliament who occupy 110 seats out of the 440-seat lower house which is called Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives), and 56 seats out of the 224-seat upper house which is called Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities). Moreover, in the event of a "state of emergency" which the tatmadaw (armed forces) is given the authority to declare at any time, the commander in chief would assume full legislative, executive and judicial powers.

However, after returning from his third visit to Burma on March 6-10.2008, Ibrahim Gambari has briefed on Burma with the 15-member UN Security Council (UNSC) on March 18.2008 where he admitted his efforts had yielded "no immediate tangible outcome." But he could not ask the Council to do something effective or to strengthen the mandate of the Secretary General in pressuring the military regime for an all party-inclusive national reconciliation process in Burma. Of course, he said that he had reason to believe that the Burmese government attaches importance to his mission and "continues to value the Secretary-General's good offices as the best prospect for further cooperation through mutual trust and confidence, and constructive suggestions." But the people of Burma can not find grounds for such optimism of the UN envoy.

Most unfortunately, Gambari failed even to persuade the Security Council members to release a Presidential Statement after his briefing. The draft Security Council presidential statement which was prepared by three Security Council members—the United States, Britain and France on the Burmese constitutional referendum reflecting the views of the people of Burma, was opposed by the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin. The draft UN statement called on the military regime to allow full participation of all political actors, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the referendum process in order for it "to be inclusive and credible" through the guarantee of freedom of expression, association and assembly in the political process leading to the referendum as well as independent monitoring of the referendum.

Opposing the draft statement the Russian ambassador said, "Responding off the top of my head, I said to the members of the Council that the way I heard this idea, to me it is somewhat improper for the Security Council to go into describing modalities for a referendum or an election because we are not an election board." He also said, "We are the Security Council; we are dealing with issues of threats to international peace and security." Sadly, the lack of peace of 57.6 million people of Burma who have been groaning under the military for the last 46 years and now going to be enslaved generation after generation through the sham referendum, is not a matter to deal by the UN Security Council as the Russian ambassador wanted to mean.

However, despite being purely rebuffed by the Burmese regime during his last visit which was widely reported by the official media and which made it clear to Gambari that his approach of accommodating the generals in an effort to engage them in a dialogue has not worked, the UN envoy failed to give a frank assessment of the current situation in Burma to the UN Security Council as well as the international community. All his proposals to the regime to amend the draft constitution, to allow a UN role in the May referendum and to include input from the country's pro-democracy movement and other political parties, were rejected outright by the junta. He failed to make minimum visible progress towards achieving the goals set by the UN Security Council through its presidential statement in October 2007.

Mr Gambari is a veteran diplomat who holds the record of being the longest serving Ambassador / Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UN and who served as President of the Security Council on two occasions and chaired the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid which has successfully seen the demise of the long-standing social injustice and the establishment of democratic rule in South Africa. He also chaired the UN Special Committee on Peace Keeping Operations from 1990-1999. But despite his several rounds of discussions with the junta leaders during his three times visit to Burma and also his countless trips to the capitals around the world over the past few months, he has been unable to accomplish any of the goals set by himself, by the UN Secretary-General, or by the Security Council towards a meaningful national reconciliation in Burma, even though there are reasons to consider broader factors for his ineffectiveness.

In fact, time is running out as the farcical referendum which is aimed at trampling the people of Burma for generations under the military boot, is going to take place on May 10 on the junta-drafted constitution. And in an effort to show some level of "eye-wash success", the local authorities have already started ordering the people to support the constitutional referendum, with threats on those who may say "No" to the draft. People of pro-military organs like Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC), Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and National Unity Party (NUP) are holding meetings at the village level, making known to the people of the consequences of voting "No" in the referendum. They are explaining to the villagers how to vote in the referendum and how the local authorities will observe the people -saying that the local authorities will check the ballots after the polling station is closed and if they find out who is against the draft constitution they will detain him / her to be interrogated immediately why he / she is opposing it. Now, many people have started to think that at least for the sake of one's own safety, it will not be wise to vote "No" in the referendum as it will be like inviting the wolf by a lamb to attack him.

The pro-military people are also cautioning that the situation will be disastrous in the States or Townships where the ethnic minorities live. If the authority finds poor turnout or no-vote majority, the minorities who are purely defenseless and powerless, will have to be ready to face the worst. At the same time, in order to spread panic among the common people, the pro-military gangs are attacking the pro-democracy and human rights activists as the authorities tighten control on opposition groups ahead of the referendum.

There is no denying the fact that the Burmese military rulers are pushing the country to a dangerous road for the future. They are also trying to deceive the international community through the referendum in order to divert international attention away from last September's brutal crackdown.

Now it is time for Gambari to frankly concede that he was unable to get things moving in his approach of "dialogue and accommodation" in Burma, so that the international community can re-evaluate its approach to Burma's ruling generals and also the UN can review its Burma policy.

It is also the expectation of the international community from Ibrahim Gambari to clearly outline what his mission or the international community can do to ensure that the junta addresses the demands of the international community.

Nevertheless, in the wake of the failure and frustration of Ibrahim Gambari, now it is important to strengthen the direct involvement of the UN Secretary General through a separate mandate of the UN Security Council in order to help maximise the international efforts to resolve the political impasse in Burma.

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Ahmedur Rahman Farooq, Chairman, Rohingya Human Rights Council (RHRC). Address: 2975, Vang i Valdres, Norway .Contact:+4797413036 Email: rohingyas.rhrc@ yahoo.com, rohingyas.rhrc@ gmail.com

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