US Vows to Continue Pressing for Burma CoI

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FRIDAY, 17 JUNE 2011

The Irrawaddy – The US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) said that the US will continue working with its allies at the UN to seek the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burma, according to a statement issued on Wednesday by the US Mission to Geneva.

“Burma holds over 2,000 political prisoners and routinely violates the rights of its citizens, including ethnic minority populations,” said Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, in her speech to the 17th Session of the HRC.

“The United States remains committed to seeking accountability for human rights violations that have occurred in Burma by working to establish an international Commission of Inquiry through close consultations with our friends, allies, and other partners at the United Nations,” she said.

A Burmese exile human rights group viewed the US ambassador’s statement as an encouraging sign in their efforts to achieve the CoI on Burma. However, Burma’s new government rejected the recommendation for a CoI, which was first made during previous HRC sessions by the UN Special Human Rights Rapporteur to Burma, Tomas Ojea Qunitana, for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“The Burmese government’s representative rejected the establishment of the CoI in the sessions of the HRC,” said Aung Myo Min, director of Thailand-based Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), who attended the Universal Periodic Review session in Geneva in June. “Also, unlike the bloc’s previous policy stands on Burma, the EU countries are not united in their supports for the CoI.”

“Therefore, the US’s role to initiate the CoI establishment within the UN is very important because we are now targeting to get a resolution for the CoI in the upcoming UN General Assembly,” he said.

The HREIB also saw the US commitment to a CoI as progress on the part of the Obama Administration, which first endorsed the establishment of the CoI in August 2010, but didn’t have any specific plan on how to realize the commission, said Aung Myo Min.

Tun Shin, the new government’s Attorney General, who attended the UPR session in Geneva, said to the council: “There were 190 recommendations on Myanmar [Burma], out of which 74 were supported, with 46 recommendations taken back to the capital for consideration and 70 recommendations which it was felt infringed on the sovereign rights of Myanmar.”

The 70 recommendations that the new government rejected included the establishment of the CoI for Burma, said Aung Myo Min.

He said that there are three possible channels to form the CoI for Burma—the HRC, the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council (UNSC). The UNSC was able to pass a resolution to form a CoI for the human rights violations in Darfur, Sudan in 2004, and the HRC took a historic step in passing a recent resolution for a CoI on Libya.

Burmese exile activists believe that a resolution for the establishment of the CoI on Burma at the UN General Assembly is a possible option, while they believe that China will definitely block such an action in the UNSC against the new Burmese government, which is now its “strategic ally” in the region.

There have so far been 16 countries which officially supported the establishment of the CoI on Burma. They are: The Czech Republic, Australia, the United Kingdom, Slovakia, Canada, the US, Hungary, New Zealand, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Belgium and Denmark.

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