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Ignoring Burma
Last uploaded : Wednesday 3rd Oct 2007 at 12:30
Contributed by : Gerald Steinberg


The conflict and human rights crisis in Burma
(also known as Myanmar) has suddenly exploded,
and, very belatedly, the discredited United
Nations human rights mechanisms and the army of
associated nongovernmental organizations (NGO)
are calling for international action. But a large part of this Burma tragedy results from the fact
that, as in the case of the mass killings in
Darfur, members of the self-proclaimed
international human rights network have devoted
very few of their resources to the junta's abuses.

The military regime, which seized power in 1988,
turned Burma into one of the most isolated and
repressive nations in the world, with frequent
violent attacks and murder of opponents and critics.

However, the record shows that powerful groups
such as Human Rights Watch (with an annual budget
of over $40 million) and Amnesty International
(whose budget exceeds $200 million) have issued
only a handful press releases and letters
focusing on Burma. For more than two years (since
June 2005), no serious reports have been
published by Human Rights Watch regarding Burma,
and no press conferences have been held to
highlight the human rights abuses. In Human
Rights Watch's annual report the section
on Burma is slightly over four pages long, out of
a total of 568, or less than 1 percent.

Instead, these NGOs, like the U.N. Human Rights
Council, have devoted an absurdly
disproportionate portion of their resources to
attacking democracies, where the level of human
rights is incomparably better than in Burma,
Saudi Arabia and Sudan, for example. In the Human
Rights Watch annual report, more than 20 pages
are devoted to an essay claiming to document
attacks on free speech in the wake of the
September 11 terror attacks. Such reports are
poorly documented and contain false and
unverified allegations couched in pseudo-legal
jargon, but many journalists and diplomats
enthralled by the "halo effect" repeat the claims without question.

In particular, this network has become a major
part of the obsessive political war on Israel,
joining and aiding the well financed Arab and
Islamic lobby in implementing the Durban strategy

In early September 2007, Human Rights Watch
issued two more massive reports (totaling more
than 400 pages, and with the same holes in their
evidence) revisiting the 2006 conflict between
Israel and Hezbollah, in addition to more than 30
previous statements, reports, op-eds, etc.
published during the six-week war (far more than
the few statements on Burma during the entire year).

Human Rights Watch leader Ken Roth came to
Jerusalem to condemn Israel yet again and
exonerate Hezbollah for use of human shields
(although the quality of evidence, or rather lack
of such, had not changed since the war).
Similarly, on International Human Rights Day in
2006, Amnesty International's leader, Irene Khan,
made a highly publicized pilgrimage to the
Israeli security barrier to issue yet another
politically correct condemnation against Israel's
legitimate anti-terror measures.

Had these resources been devoted to the areas of
real human rights abuses in the world, including
Burma, Sudan, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria,
for example, this might have made a difference.
Concerted campaigns by the NGOs with an
alternative agenda that did not focus on false
allegations against Israel and the U.S. might
have embarrassed the U.N. officials, including
Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour into
taking their moral obligations seriously, instead
of simply exploiting the rhetoric. Tepid NGO
criticism of the UN came far too late, and was
disingenuous - the record of bias and double
standards in the activities of HRW, Amnesty and
other groups set the example for the international bodies.

Before they blame others and issue more pious
statements on Burma, Darfur and elsewhere, NGO
and U.N. officials would do well to examine their
own contribution to the disastrous state of human
rights in the world. Had they fulfilled their
obligations, the heads of HRW, Amnesty, and the
hundreds of other groups that raise money and
claim to act under the banner of promoting
universal human rights would have been able to
warn the Burmese military that their repression
was unacceptable. Had the international human
rights watchdogs done their duty in Burma and
Darfur, they might also have been able to prevent violence and save lives.

Gerald Steinberg is executive director of
ngo-monitor.org and professor of political
science at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.


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