Now is not the time for a Commission of Inquiry

There is no question that gross human rights violations have been committed by the ruling regime in Burma.  The question is what is the best way for the international community to react to these atrocities.  Many have supported a UN-led Commission of inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.  In August, President Obama joined several other countries in giving his support to such an inquiry.

While I believe that those who have committed atrocities should be help accountable for their actions, I do not believe that this is the right time to raise the issue at the UN.

First, any attempt at international action without China’s blessing would be fruitless.  Given China’s economic interest in stability in Burma together with their protectiveness of any activity within their sphere of influence, at the present time, there is no hope of getting China on board.  North Korea clearly represents a much more direct threat to international security and China has steadfastly refused to take any dramatic steps to rein in Pyongyang.  With recent escalations in tensions between North and South Korea, China will be particularly sensitive to any international policing going on so close to its borders.  Rather than spend time and energy on futile efforts, advocacy groups should be focusing on more achievable goals.

Second, I believe that a Commission of Inquiry, or a referral to the ICC, would be counter-productive to the long-term goal of introducing democracy to Burma.  Facing the prospect of a war crimes trial can only decrease the likelihood that the generals or new “elected” officials will ever step aside for a legitimate government.

I believe this is why Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stated:

“I’ve never said I want them to be brought into the international court.”  “I don’t think there is any solid reason for the generals to fear for their safety. We are not after them personally. I certainly do not wish them ill.”

Once power has shifted, or at least once a shit has begun, I would support going after the perpetrators with any and all tools available to bring them to justice.


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