Shame

The UPA government must be held to account for taking a disgraceful position on Myanmar

The Acorn holds no brief for the UN Human Rights Council. But it rose to the occasion on Myanmar. Here is the resolution it passed.

In a resolution (A/HRC/S-5/L.1/Rev.1) on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, adopted by consensus as orally amended, the Council strongly deplores the continued violent repression of peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar, including through beatings, killings and enforced disappearances, and urges the Government of Myanmar to exercise utmost restraint and to desist from further violence against peaceful protesters; urges the Government of Myanmar to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, to end impunity and to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of human rights violations, including for the recent violations of the rights of peaceful protesters; also urges the Government of Myanmar to release without delay those arrested and detained as a result of the recent repression of peaceful protests, as well as to release all political detainees in Myanmar, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and to ensure that conditions of detention meet international standards and include the possibility of visiting any detainee; further urges the Government of Myanmar to lift all restraints on peaceful political activity of all persons by, inter alia, guaranteeing freedom of peaceful assembly and association and freedom of opinion and expression; …urges the Government of Myanmar to engage urgently in a reinvigorated national dialogue with all parties with a view to achieving genuine national reconciliation, democratization and the establishment of the rule of law; [read the rest at UNHRC]

The resolution was passed by consensus. But two countries—India and Russia—issued ‘explanations’ of the vote. That’s diplomatese for dissent.

SWASHPAWAN SINGH (India), in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said India had always advocated an outcome that was forward-looking, non-condemnatory, and sought to involve the authorities in Myanmar in a peaceful outcome, and regretted that the text adopted was not in line with that approach. It did not engage constructively with the authorities in Myanmar. However, India had joined the consensus, in the hope that the further activities of the Council in this matter would be more constructive. [UNHRC emphasis added]

The UPA has brought dishonour and disgrace to India. This is the lowest point in India’s foreign policy in a very long time.

19 thoughts on “Shame”

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  2. Absolutely deplorable. And say what you want to say about George W Bush at least he came out and condemned the actions of the Military Junta.

    What absolutely annoys me is that we take so much pride in being the world’s largest democracy, democracy has survived in this country against all odds (when most scholars had written our chances off in the late forties) and YET we don’t support these protesters in Myanmar. Shameful and really disappointing.

  3. >> the Council strongly deplores the continued violent repression of peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar, including through beatings, killings and enforced disappearances

    why should a government agree to this kind of rhetoric? nationalinterest.in can adopt a such line (and I’m glad it does) but mea.gov.in cannot be part of such rabble rousing. As I had said in one of your earlier posts on this issue, the despicable behavior has been that of the media, political parties, socio-cultural organizations and the people of India and not that of the government.

    and your UPA thing was very cheap. we cannot blame UPA for what is essentially a diplomatic decision/stand (which I don’t even think is wrong).

  4. Balaji,
    Glad to see that there’s some one who could think a little un-conventionally. The larger thing to look at here is the fact that India still supported the resolution.

    I think every one who is aware of the situation in Burma and has some notion of decency deplores it. Like you pointed out, what is really deplorable is the lack of attention to Burmese tyranny from the Indian news media as well as the laissez-affaire attitude of the average Indian who thinks that this is Burma’s “internal affairs”.

    What is more important than expressing how bad the GOI feels about Burma’s people is what it is actually going to do about it. By refusing to openly condemn the Burmese regime, we are atleast keeping the lines of communication open with the junta.In fact i hope that the Govt while publicly refusing to excoriate the generals is privately asking them to start negotiating with Auung San Suu Kyi.If some type of understanding is reached between the two sides on power sharing, the Indian Govt can then raise legitimate concerns about the conditions of the monks,civilians who have been arrested and ask for them to be freed.

    Every one feels terrible about what is happening – you can very easily construe that GOI is enabling the Burmese junta by not condemning it – but we all know that India would be more than happy for this evil regime to go away one day and for a democratic Burma to flourish. How to we get there is the question – and frankly you cannot do that without making any compromises at all. We have very little traction with the junta and we dont want to lose what ever little influence we have with them. Some questionable and terrible compromises such as remaining silent for the most part about the junta’s barbarism have to be made while gritting your teeth at the same time.Bleeding heart liberalism is not going to help the Burmese any time soon.

    God Bless the Burmese civilians and monks and those military men who purportedly refused to attack the monks.

  5. Sportsnob – “And say what you want to say about George W Bush at least he came out and condemned the actions of the Military Junta.”

    Did Bush condemn Musharraf? When? Where?

  6. Balaji,

    You ignore the little matter that (a) it is the government that makes/endorses foreign policy decisions and (b) even if decisions are made by bureaucrats it bears ultimate responsibility for it.

    Balaji/NS—the value of a multilateral statement is that it allows India to say what it might not have wanted to say so itself. All the business of lines of communication is balderdash. No one is talking about withdrawing embassies. Moreover the thing about gently nudging the generals to release their brutal grip on power has been tried for over 15 years; by various parties—and it’s not working.

  7. Nitin,
    I do not know if you read the article by Swapan Dasgupta linked to by Mihir. It does a very calm and sensible analysis of the situation.

    I would like to know what exactly would be achieved by anybody coming down really hard on Burma. Do you think a statement deploring the atrocities on the civilian population that displays our moral clarity in words is actually better than engaging the junta that might pave the way to a democratic Burma one day ?

    What exactly happened with all our moral posturing with the junta when we openly supported Suu Kyi ? Nothing really changed, did it ?

    The sad part there is no other viable option than engaging the junta right now. In fact we have to ask this question – are the Buddhist monks the only people who can lead a sustained form of non violent protests ? Where the heck are the Burmese civilians ? If they want to be free so badly, they need to be ready to sacrifice their lives. As hard as it sounds, its the only way out barring a military invasion by India to liberate Burma.

    Over the last few weeks i have realized that as great as India’s freedom struggle was due to its non violent nature, it was even greater for being able to sustain itself over such a long period of time.

    We would all love to see a democratic Burma, but moral grandstanding how ever good our intentions may be, is not going to cut it. In fact it can come back to hurt us. If the Burmese regime ever decided to share power with Suu Kyi (which i think would be the first step towards achieving democracy), India would be playing an important role in that process. Some thing that it would not be in a place to do so if it is going to openly condemn the junta.

    I do not mind India suffering a blow to its image as a supporter of democracy in the short term if it can help the Burmese people to achieve freedom over the longer term.

    If you are really serious about India condemning Burmese junta openly, i suggest that we take this one step beyond condemnation. Why dont we just completely cut off ties with Burma in protest ? Who wants to trade with a country headed by this vile regime ?

    We might as well join the US and the EU in completely cutting ourselves off from Burma. And lose any traction we have gained/will gain in the process.

    Now that will help the Burmese people, wont it ?

  8. Nitin,
    Thank you very much for supporting democratic movement of my country.

    A burmese from Norway

  9. NS,

    I’ve read Swapan’s take. Shishir Gupta also had an article in last week’s Indian Express that was quite informative about the interests at stake.

    I’ve laid our my arguments why coddling the junta is not in India’s interests in my Mint op-ed and in related posts on this blog.

    Like the person who changed the subtitle of my Mint op-ed, many people assume my position stems from morality. Far from it, it comes from a very different perspective of India’s geopolitical interests. We are talking about the balance of power in the Asian region over the next few decades.

    Energy security is a red herring. India’s entire strategy of a state-driven approach to secure equity oil, pipelines etc suffers from inherent risks. The answer to energy security lies in markets. And deep economic relations with energy supplying nations (which Myanmar’s junta would rather not have).

    The warring ethnic groups theory too is more a bogey than anything else. Those who argue that multiple ethnic groups can’t live in a single state usually hail from homogenous or authoritarian states or both. Many Indian analysts have unquestioningly bought this conventional wisdom.

    Broadly, the strategy of coddling dictators assumes that India can beat China in its own game. It’s just like trying to build roads in South East Asia, or in India’s own border regions. The Chinese—who care little about the environment, people’s rights etc—can build them much faster than India. So it stands to reason that India’s strategy must be radically different, and play to its own strengths (and China’s weaknesses). That’s why India must not lose an opportunity to hold out the plural democratic model in this part of the world. (Or indeed, in the India’s North-East—I’ve argued that a far more effective way to solve the problems of the North-East is to give those states the same number of seats in the Rajya Sabha as others, like the US Senate).

    Still, it’s hard to avoid the impression that the government itself is been caught like a deer in the headlights; it’s inactivity being explained away in terms of energy security, realpolitik etc.

  10. Nitin, I still cannot understand this dissent. Did the Govt use it score a point about pursuing “independent foriegn policy”?

  11. Arun,

    That too would be a post facto rationalisation. Unless “independent foreign policy” implies that foreign policy is independent of the changes in the real world 🙂

  12. Nitin,
    I am kind of disappointed that your position vis-a-vis Burma does not arise from morality. Although you clearly support Burmese aspirations to freedom.

    I did go through your op-ed about how our relationship with Burma if based solely on energy interests is bound to be subject to black mail. I agree with you 100% on this issue.

    How ever I dont know if you can acknowledge the fact that no country in the world other than China has any kind of traction on Burma. And the fact that our options are pretty limited at this point because of the fact that we have very little influence on the Burmese junta due to our public policy of many years of opposition towards them.

    The junta is a group of senior military leaders that we are essentially molly coddling so that they are not under the complete influence of China. I dont think those generals themselves like it that way.If we can get traction with these guys, we may be able to influence them to talk to Suu Kyi and start with a power sharing agreement.And help us with our energy concerns in the short term.

    The biggest problem for us is that the Burmese people still seem to be looking for some sort of outside intervention – they were inspired by the Buddhist monks briefly but have largely gone back to being subdued after the monks were brutally attacked.

    If there are no public demonstrations that can be sustained for a long time, there really is going to be no pressure on Burma.There HAS to be a very public demonstration of a very broad based democracy movement over a long time.

    As far as our energy concerns go, if you dont want gas from Iran and Burma but want to diversify your energy suppliers by buying them at market rates, i have one question for you. What exactly is the cost of distribution/shipping if we get it from world markets ? My thinking about the Burmese deal was that the transportation costs would be lesser and not so prohibitive. I have very little knowledge in these energy issues and there fore i am throwing this question to any one who is on this message board.

    Where do you go from here ? India seems to be in an unfavorable situation and is trying to make the best of it.

    It looks ugly and believe me i hate what is going on. But at the same time, we dont seem to have a lot of options right now barring an outright invasion of Burma. India is not going to go for that either.

    At the very least, GOI’s decision has opened up the Burma question wide open to debate. And thats a healthy thing.

  13. NS,

    We’ve spent 15 years getting “traction with these guys”. So when is a good time to know that this horse isn’t going anywhere?

    It has been fashionable to blame the Burmese people for not fighting the junta. I suppose this view arises in a world accustomed to seeing people taking up armed struggle. No prizes for satyagraha! This was not merely a monks’ movement, and the popular support shows that ordinary people have not given up. Mistaking passivity for submission is a common mistake, at least in the West. And do take a look at the photos and videos of how the junta has cracked down before accusing the Burmese people of not standing up.

    The Burma question was wide open to debate the moment the monks started their movement. GOI’s decision has only opened itself up to shame.

    As for there being no options: that’s another canard. There are no risk-free options. That goes for remaining silent too.

  14. “We’ve spent 15 years getting “traction with these guys”. So when is a good time to know that this
    horse isn’t going anywhere?”

    There really is’nt. At the very least this is not the time to abruptly pull out of the strategy GOI is pursuing. This does nt mean that we will keep mollycoddling these tyrants forever. In fact I will bet you that the Indian Govt has already talked to the junta about these protests in private.

    “It has been fashionable to blame the Burmese people for not fighting the junta. I suppose this view arises in a world accustomed to seeing people taking up armed struggle. No prizes for satyagraha! ”

    In fact I was talking about satyagraha. The brutality of the oppression should not shake the styagrahi’s faith. My point was this – these protests HAVE to sustain. I know that the Burmese people have been resisting the junta for a long time. If you dont want an armed struggle you atleast have to consider non violent protests that sustain in the face of brutality. Satyagraha infact is against brutality. Of course it is easy for me to say this, but thats the harsh reality.

    “The Burma question was wide open to debate the moment the monks started their movement. GOI’s decision has only opened itself up to shame.”

    It is tough to defend GOI’s public meekness on this issue. but that does not necessarily invalidate their strategy as a whole.

    “As for there being no options: that’s another canard. There are no risk-free options. That goes for remaining silent too.”

    Options – Heck, we can’t even restore ISP service in Burma without the junta agreeing to it.

    Can you please suggest what these options are ? An outright invasion of Burma ? If this happened you would find the ferocity with the Chinese would respond to protect their investments in Burma. Thats right. If we go to war against Burma’s generals we would be going to war with China.

    What would be the Indian public’s stomach for this war ? They care more about the “great victory” in the 20 20 WC than what’s happening in Burma. In fact Indian people DID NOT PARTICIPATE in the world wide protests for the Burmese people this weekend.

    Whether you agree with me or not, China has more influence on Burma than any one else. And that did not happen by mere accident.

    What ever India is doing to make the situation better is not going to be publicized. Lets hope and pray that GOI is doing some thing for the poor Burmese people.

  15. “Unless “independent foreign policy” implies that foreign policy is independent of the changes in the real world :-)”

    That’s exactly what it means to Pranab.

    Watch this half-hour interview of Pranab with Charlie Rose. Most responses of Pranab are bogus. But the one that takes the cake is Pranab’s reply when Charlie asks about relationship with Iran. Pranab’s brings up recognition of Communists China into the answer. It’s a real eye opener on how MEA thinks through issues. 🙂

    Also, Pranab throws up his hands to explain Myanmar situation, a la Shivraj “what can we do” type stuff.

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