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United States Seeks Security Council Briefing on Burma

30 November 2005

State's Bolton asks U.N. secretary-general for formal review of situation

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- Citing serious problems caused by illicit narcotics, human-rights abuses and political repression, the United States has requested that senior U.N. officials formally brief the Security Council on the deteriorating situation in Burma.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton sent a letter to Security Council President Andrey Denisov of Russia November 29 requesting a formal briefing.  Bolton also met with Secretary-General Kofi Annan and asked the secretary-general to do the briefing personally.

Annan is set to embark on a two-week visit to several Asian countries, but will not be visiting Burma, known officially as Myanmar.  Bolton told journalists November 30 that he is willing to wait for the briefing until the secretary-general returns December 19.

The U.S. ambassador said the United States has considered asking for the Security Council briefing "for some time" and has been working to build support within the 15-nation council.  Bolton said he hopes the council will decide by consensus whether to hold a formal review, but he is "prepared to call for a vote" if necessary.

The United States last raised the issue in the Security Council during a closed-door session on June 24, using the June 19 birthday of the detained pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi to call attention to political repression in Burma.

On his own initiative, Annan has sent a special representative to meet with the Burmese junta.  The U.N. Commission on Human Rights also has a special rapporteur on Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.

Over the past few days, both the secretary-general and the special rapporteur have expressed strong disapproval of the junta's decision to extend the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD, the democratic opposition party) and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  She has been held in prison or under house arrest for more than 10 of the last 16 years.  (See also “U.S. Deplores Decision To Extend Detention of Burmese Dissident.”)

"On the eve of another phase of the National Convention, many of those who should be in attendance find themselves behind bars.  That legitimate political stake-holders are locked out of the political process runs contrary to the government's commitment to institute democracy," Pinheiro said in a statement released November 29.  The National Convention is scheduled to resume talks on terms for a new constitution on December 5.  It has met intermittently for more than 10 years.

Burma is not officially on the agenda of the Security Council.  Some council members believe that the issues, although serious, do not constitute a threat to international peace and security and therefore are not an issue for the Security Council.  However, according to the council's rules of procedure, a delegation can ask for a briefing on any subject.

After consultations November 30, Security Council President Denisov said council members will be consulting capitals on the U.S. request and will decide in the next few days how to proceed.  The council could have a briefing on the situation without placing Burma officially on the Security Council's agenda or decide to have a formal meeting during which Burma would be allowed to make a statement.

The United Kingdom will assume the presidency of the Security Council December 1.

In his November 29 letter to the Security Council president, Bolton said the United States and other nations are concerned about Burma.

"The flow of narcotics is a catalyst in both the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and potentially destabilizing transnational crime," Bolton said.

The ambassador called the human-rights situation in Burma "disconcerting," noting that the country's military regime has destroyed villages, targeted ethnic minorities, and forced relocations, leading to a large number of both internally displaced persons and refugees across international borders.

"The regime's failure to initiate democratic reforms while repressing political opponents shows the regime's continued intent to maintain power regardless of its citizens' desires.  The regime continues to hold over 1,100 prisoners and recently extended the detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi," Bolton said.

According to press reports, Burmese authorities are seeking nuclear power capabilities, the ambassador told journalists after council consultations. 

"That's interesting given the low per capita income in Burma," he said.  "It is an issue ... that we'd like to explore."

For additional information on U.S. policy, see U.S. Support for Democracy in Burma.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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