China Lobbying to Thwart U.S. Push for Burma War-Crimes Probe, Post Says

 
China Campaigning Against International Probe of Possible War
Crimes in Burma

By Colum Lynch
     Oct. 25 (Washington Post) -- The Chinese government has
launched a high-octane diplomatic campaign during the past two
months aimed at thwarting the Obama administration's plan to back
an international probe into possible war crimes by Burma's
military rulers.
     The Chinese effort - which includes high-level lobbying of
top U.N. officials and European and Asian governments - has taken
the steam out of the U.S. initiative, which was designed to raise
the political costs to Burma's military junta for failing to open
its Nov. 7 elections to the country's political opposition.
     A senior U.S. official was pessimistic about the current
prospects for securing international support for a war crimes
probe and made it clear that Washington had no immediate plans to
introduce a proposal to establish one. "We have been and continue
to consult with others," said the official, who requested
anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak publicly
on the matter. "It's on the list of things that are good ideas
that we want to discuss and explore."
     Liu Yutong, a spokesman for the Chinese mission at the
United Nations, did not respond to a request for comment.
     Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, is widely considered
to have one of the most appalling human rights records in the
world. The ruling junta has detained more than 2,100 political
prisoners, who have endured torture, inadequate medical care and
even death. The Burmese military has also imposed abuses on
ethnic minorities, including the forced relocation of villages,
forced labor and systematic human rights abuses, including rape.
     "There is a pattern of gross and systematic violation of
human rights which has been in place for many years and still
continues," the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in
Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, wrote in a March report, saying such
crimes could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.
"There is an indication that those human rights violations are
the result of a state policy."
     The United States outlined its plan to support Quintana's
appeal for a war crimes inquiry against senior Burmese officials,
including Burma's top military ruler Than Shwe, in August
interviews with Foreign Policy magazine and The Washington Post.
The decision reflected frustration that U.S. officials' effort to
engage the regime had failed to produce democratic reforms or the
release of political prisoners, including Nobel laureate Aung San
Suu Kyi, who serves under house detention.
     At the time, a senior U.S. official said the United States
anticipated the effort could take years, comparing it to the
decades-long struggle to hold Khmer Rouge leaders accountable for
mass killings in Cambodia in the 1970s. The most likely method
for pursuing the creation of a commission of inquiry is through
the passage of resolutions at the U.N. General Assembly's human
rights committee, which is now in session, or the U.N. Human
Rights Council, which will convene early next year.
     Washington could also appeal to U.N. Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon to do it under his own authority - although Ban, who is
seeking reelection, is unlikely to pursue the proposal without
broader support for it in the Security Council.
     But the United States has pursued a highly cautious
diplomatic strategy, merely sounding out top U.N. officials and
potential allies about their willingness to support the
prosecution of top Burmese officials, but not offering a clear
plan on how to do it, these officials said. So far, Washington
has garnered little public support for the initiative from Asian
and European governments or the U.N. leadership.
     China, meanwhile, has forcefully urged European and Asian
countries and the U.N. leadership to oppose the measure on the
grounds that it could undermine Burma's fragile political
transition, according to diplomats and human rights advocates.
Just days after the United States signaled support for the war
crimes commission, China's U.N. ambassador, Li Baodong, paid a
confidential visit to Ban's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, to
make his opposition clear: The U.S. proposal, he said, was
dangerous and counterproductive, and should not be allowed to
proceed, three U.N.-based sources familiar with the exchange told
The Post.
     "What we are seeing is the Chinese practicing American-style
diplomacy and the Americans practicing Asian-style diplomacy,"
said Tom Malinowski, the Washington-based director of advocacy
for Human Rights Watch. "The Chinese are making it clear what
they want, and they are using all the leverage at their disposal
to get what they want. And the Americans are operating in this
hyper-consensual, subtle, indirect way that we associate with
Chinese diplomacy."
     Malinowski said the problem is less about Chinese or Russian
opposition, which was to be expected, so much as a failure of
U.S. leadership. "One should recognize why the Chinese are
against this: They recognize it would be a consequential
measure," he said. "If you allow Chinese opposition to deter you,
then what you are saying is that you are only going to take steps
on Burma that are inconsequential."
     In the first major test of the U.S. strategy, the annual
debate on human rights at the General Assembly, the Obama
administration was the only country that explicitly called for
consideration of a commission of inquiry - although Britain, the
Czech Republic and Slovakia signaled support for holding human
rights violators accountable for crimes.
     "After carefully considering the issues, the U.S. believes
that a properly structured international commission of inquiry
that would examine allegations of serious violations of
international law could provide an opportunity for achieving our
shared objectives of advancing human rights there," said Rick
Barton, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social
Council, told members of the General Assembly's Third Committee,
which deals with human rights.
     In contrast, China, Russia, Singapore and other members of
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations voiced firm opposition
to the proposal. A report by Ban to the General Assembly on
Burma's human rights record made no reference to the
controversial proposal.
     The senior U.S. official said it was unlikely that the
General Assembly's human rights committee would address war
crimes in a resolution drafted by the European Union that will be
considered next month. "We don't run the resolution in the
General Assembly. So that's not our call. My sense is there is
not much momentum right now in the General Assembly to add this
new element to the resolution. But the dynamics could change over
time."
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