Burma: UN Resolution Barely Pushed Through
The United Nations General Assembly's Third Committee on Friday [21 November 2008] approved a draft resolution on the human rights situation inside Burma, amid a lengthy debate that illustrated the divide over Burma, the rights of member states and the workings of the international body.
The UN's Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee passed the resolution, critical of the human rights condition in Burma and the authority’s inaction or unwillingness in combating rights violations, by a vote of 89 in favor and 29 against, with 63 abstentions.
All 27 members of the European Union offered their support for the resolution, in addition to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, among others.
In contrast, only seven Asian countries approved of the draft, including none of Burma's immediate neighbors and no member of ASEAN. Bangladesh, Brunei, China, India, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam all voted against, while Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand abstained (Cambodia was absent).
The abstention on the part of the Philippines came just days before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this weekend [November 2008] rained praise on the Philippines as being the one country in Asia supportive of the United States' position on Burma.
In addition to Japan, Mongolia, South Korea and Kazakhstan, the other three Asian countries to support the item have all recently witnessed significant external intervention, led by either the United States or Australia – Afghanistan, Iraq and Timor-Leste.
Burma's delegate to the Committee reserved strong language for those who supported the motion, letting it be known that Burma would feel under no obligation to be bound by the vote.
"If left unchallenged, [the motion] will set a dangerous precedent for all developing countries", he warned, as the resolution was an attempt to infringe on national sovereignty while a case of direct interference in the domestic affairs of a member state.
Subsequently, a no-action motion put forth by the Burmese representative was defeated by a vote of 90 against to 54 in favor, with 34 abstentions.
Those that opted not to support the draft commonly sighted the politicization of human rights, inattention to the domestic progress made by Burmese authorities and the inappropriateness of the venue for country specific resolutions – the Human Rights Council felt to be the rightful forum in which to raise such concerns.
France, who took the lead in tabling the action on behalf of the European Union, said the text was designed to raise awareness among the international community as to the continuing rights violations in the Southeast Asian country and "in an effort to mobilize action on all sides."
The French representative called on Burma's ruling military to engage in dialogue and to cooperate fully with United Nations mechanisms in the area of human rights. He proceeded to say the new constitution, approved in May , fails to address the assurance of basic rights inside the country and that, "No attempt had been made to prosecute those guilty of repressing the acts of peaceful protest from a year ago ."
India's representative, explaining his country's vote, first noted that the country has always recognized the importance of human rights. However, it was forced to vote against the resolution as it was not "forward-looking" and confrontational in approach. India also wished that the Committee would recognize the positive steps of the Burmese government over the past year  – a sentiment similarly voiced by Indonesia and Japan, despite the latter weighing in in support of the draft.
Further commenting on the ideological, development and interest divide at the international level, Friday [21 November 2008] also witnessed the tabling of a resolution critical of human rights as a unilateral coercive measure "implemented in contravention of international law and the United Nations Charter, and with negative consequences to economic development."
The resolution passed, garnering 124 votes in favor to 52 against. All ASEAN countries, China, India and Russia supported the motion; while the European Union, United States, Canada, Australia and Japan were among those who voted against the action.