Thursday, December 25, 2008

UN Passes Strong Resolution on Burma Human Rights Abuses

The Irrawaddy News

The UN General Assembly has adopted by a vote of nearly four to one a resolution calling on Burma to free all political prisoners, including detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and criticizing the human rights record of the Burmese regime.

The resolution, which addressed the issue of human rights in Burma, was carried on Wednesday by 80 votes to 25, with 45 abstentions.

It urged the Burmese government to halt arrests of political activists and expressed concern about incidents of torture and sexual abuse and the crackdown on peaceful protesters in September 2007.

The resolution also voiced concern over the process of the junta’s so-called “seven-step roadmap” toward democracy, including the planned general election, noting the failure of the regime to include other political parties, members of Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, and representatives of ethnic political organizations.

An unnamed Burmese UN representative later rejected the resolution and accused the UN Assembly of "blatant interference" in his country’s internal political affairs. He said that although Burma would not feel bound by the resolution it would nevertheless continue to cooperate with the UN and the Secretary-General’s good offices.

The Burmese representative maintained that his country had made major political strides and was now in the process of democratization by carrying out the so-called seven-step roadmap.

Four of Burma’s Asean partners—Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand—abstained in Wednesday’s vote, while Cambodia was not present. Brunei Darussalam, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam joined China, India and Russia, together with countries ranging from Algeria to Zimbabwe, in voting against the resolution.

Burma’s top diplomat at the UN, Kyaw Tint Swe, said in a recent confidential report to his country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that international pressure on Burma would increase within the UN Security Council, particularly from Western members. The envoy said Western influence within the Security Council would increase when Japan and Uganda replace Indonesia and South Africa in January.

Japan voted in favor of the resolution on Wednesday, while Uganda was not present for the vote.

In late November, Burmese junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe said in the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar that the seven-step roadmap is the only way to smooth the transition toward democratic reform in Burma.

The fifth stage of the seven-step roadmap will be the general election, scheduled for 2010.

According to human rights groups, Burma has more than 2,100 political prisoners. About 215 political activists were sentenced last month to prison terms of up to 68 years.

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