Resolutions Are No Good Unless They're Enforceable

23 October 2005

I absolutely understand Boitumelo Mofokeng’s frustration at the mere fact that we seem to need something like UNSCR 1325. Why should we need something that enforces what should be women’s inalienable rights, simply as members of the human species? Why should we need to codify women’s very existence on the planet?

Nevertheless, our framework here is to work within the existing system, flawed as it is. I happen to believe—contrary to what the current administration of my country believes—that the UN is worthy of our respect, attention, and efforts toward improving it; I believe that it can become a truly effective international body by reforming what is already there; much is good about the organisation, and again unlike my country’s government, I do not believe in destroying social programmes and allowing the free market and chosen  churches to take control of all societal welfare.

Like others on this blog, I am deeply distrustful of resolutions and wish there were a better way to enforce them. When “top gun” United States of America not only doesn’t live up to such resolutions and other international treaties, but actually scorns them openly, how can we expect other countries to consider them obligatory?

In the past 11 years the UN General Assembly has passed 14 resolutions on Burma, and the Commission on Human Rights has passed 13, demanding that the military regime begin a process toward:

·    release of the country’s democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her fellow political prisoners,

·    a peaceful transition to democracy,

·    and release of the Burmese people from the oppressive practices of this government (rape, torture, forced labour, forced conscription—even of children—burning of villages, murders).

But such resolutions are not binding, and for more than a decade the military junta has ignored—nay, scoffed at—them, refusing to allow oversight by UN agencies and others as it continues to incarcerate Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 1,300 political prisoners and to practice systematic abuse of the Burmese people.

There is no penalty for not living up to the resolutions. Therein lies the problem.

One positive proposal for fixing this problem was proposed on September 20 by Aung San Suu Kyi’s fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu and former Czech president Vaclav Havel. Their 70-page proposed UNSC resolution that would oblige the military regime to work with the office of the UN secretary-general toward national reconciliation via multilateral dialogue. If it fails to do so, there would be serious consequences, as the regime would be held in violation of the very UN charter.

Currently two UNSC permanent nations, Russia and China, stand in the way of any action being taken on Burma. They are apparently worried that acting on Burma’s human rights issues would draw attention to their own human rights abuses at home.

But the Burmese, and Tutu and Havel, want only to draw world attention to Burma, the only country in the world at present that meets all the criteria the UNSC cites for it to take action within a country: the overthrow of a democratically elected government; gross human rights abuses; armed conflict among factions; serious internal displacement and refugee flows; and drug production.

We await word this week on whether the UN Security Council will vote even to put the Burma issue on the table. I will be heartened about the UN’s efficacy in general if the vote is positive.

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