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Opinion

Whose country is it anyway?

FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

Soon the United Nations is to decide who is to represent Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, at the world body. The Philippines has a say in that. So, what’s the choice that will be made in our name?

It was a dramatic moment back in February when Kyaw Moe Tun, his voice trembling, dissociated himself from the coup that kicked out the democratically elected civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and forcibly replaced it with military rule.

“We need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people, to return the state power to the people and to restore the democracy,” he said, as Myanmar’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in New York, with the cameras rolling and the world watching.

The clinching image: a military-appointed diplomat raising the three finger salute of the people’s movement that had spontaneously burst into life to oppose the military takeover. He was fired by the junta on Feb. 27 for “abuses of his assigned duty and mandate.”

The diplomat’s travails did not end there. Kyaw Moe Tun was tipped off in early August by a volunteer bodyguard that there was a conspiracy to kill him. He reportedly passed the information on to the US mission to the UN and the FBI, who arrested two Myanmar citizens after three days of investigation. The Feds said the two men were working with two other conspirators (so far not named) in Thailand and the US, to hire and pay assassins to attack the diplomat and force him to resign. If he refused, they were to “finish him off.” Apparently, they even had a plan to tamper with his car so that it would crash while the ambassador was in it.

This was an entirely new shade of dark for the already grim and genocidal Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military are known. Of course they have denied it – planning to carry out a murder in pursuit of a political enemy is no small matter between nations and has even been cause for war.

Today the UN General Assembly is to open a new session and decide whether Kyaw Moe Tun will continue to act as Myanmar’s representative or be replaced by the junta’s nominee. The task of verifying who represents any country belongs to the nine members of the Credentials Committee who will be appointed at the beginning of the General Assembly. Usually their work is straightforward, checking that any new envoy’s qualifications comply with procedure.

This year it’s going to be much more complicated, with not only Myanmar’s seat in dispute, but Afghanistan’s too. In the Central Asian nation’s case, because the Taliban has kicked out the government that appointed the diplomat, Ghulam Isaczai, currently keeping the chair warm. The committee will have to decide who the rightful representative is of each country.

Since the Tatmadaw’s coup, they have been alleged to carry out crimes against humanity on top of the genocide and atrocity charges that they were accused of even before the coup. At last count on Sept. 11 by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), 1,080 citizens have been killed by the junta, another 6,398 have been arrested, charged or sentenced, 1,984 have been charged and are evading arrest. 272 have been sentenced.

The Civil Disobedience Movement that was born out of the military’s forcible takeover is widely popular throughout the whole country. They still demonstrate in the streets or refuse to go to work every day. The junta is imprisoning and attacking doctors and other health care workers who have tended to patients seen as opposed to their rule. They failed to take measures to help the general public during the latest wave of COVID infections by providing oxygen, medicines and vaccines.

A group of more than 300 international and Myanmar civil society organizations have written a letter to the UN General assembly saying that Kyaw Moe Tun has provided a crucial voice for the people of Myanmar and the government that was removed by the coup.

“We therefore need any UN member-state that values humanity, peace and stability, and respects the will of the people, to reject – as the people of Myanmar categorically have – the military junta and its mass atrocities, and take a stand publicly in support of U Kyaw Moe Tun and the NUG (the National Unity Government formed by politicians from the overthrown government),” said Khin Ohmar, the founder of Progressive Voice, one of the groups that signed the letter.

“The junta is the very antithesis of the UN’s core values of peace, human rights, justice and social progress.” Kasit Piromiya, a Thai politician on the board of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement. “Allowing it to sit at the UN would not only undermine any chance of seeing peace and democracy again in Myanmar but would undermine the credibility of all UN efforts across the globe.”

“Myanmar’s military is responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and continues to kill and arrest its own people for resisting the coup,” said Simon Adams, the executive director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, also a signatory to the letter. “No country should recognize or support the Myanmar’s military junta.”

A 20-page legal opinion on the matter signed by prominent legal scholars including Richard Goldstone, the founding chief prosecutor of the UN’s international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, argues that the NUG’s representative should be accepted, setting out the military’s appalling human rights record, its failure to respond to international condemnation and noting that there are no prospects of dialogue.

The most likely outcome is that the UNGA will delay making a definitive decision on the matter for the time being, leaving Myanmar’s chair empty. What would you decide? Asians are known around the world for our so-called pragmatism, but in this context, if that means letting Myanmar’s generals get away with the worst possible crimes against humanity itself, I would ask whether “pragmatism” is just political jargon used by the political elite to cover up their failure to protect vulnerable people and stay in power.

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Veronica Pedrosa is on Twitter as @vpedrosa.

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