Pinheiro calls for new strategy on Burma

Sep 18, 2008 (DVB), The former United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, called for the United Nations to adopt a new strategy in dealing with the regime.

Speaking to DVB in an interview on 9 September, Pinheiro said that following the junta's seven-step road map was not an effective way to bring about a transition to democracy.

Pinheiro: "I think it is the moment to revise the strategy vis-à-vis Burma. Precisely because there'll be on the horizon another step of the road map; the elections. I think that they will also be fake elections, because I don't know how this miracle will be possible without any basic freedoms. No liberalisation at all.

"I don't know a single transition process in the world without some sort of liberalisation, in terms of the right to discuss, the right to have meetings and to [distribute] publications. All this is not allowed and how you could have [elections] without international observers? How can we have an election in such an environment? And I think it's a good moment that Europe, the other western nations, the UN could re-discuss the approach to the country."

DVB: If you were still at the UN, how would you find an imaginative way to approach the Burma question?Pinheiro: "I don't have a recipe but I have some hints for strategy. I think that it is very important not to continue considering the road map towards democracy. Of course the military government can do what they want but we are not obliged to consider that transition to democracy. I think that what is going on there is a transition to a consolidation of the military regime. This is not a democratic transition. Why is it important? Because if you base your strategy on the notion of the road map to transition to democracy then it's impossible, to have a strategy based on a false assumption.

"Second, let's abandon the hope that the military will disappear after the transition. Then I think that is, I don't know any transition in the world where everybody that was in the previous regime will disappear like that [snaps fingers]. I think you have to consider that, in the transition a lot of people in the government will continue operating the country.

"I think that is important to continue supporting the NGOs in the country that have some sort of autonomy. There are a lot of assistance, social assistance in NGOs, not exactly connected to the government. I think that every opportunity that the world can have in terms of empowering the community, I think that this must be done.

"Something that I have already said is to establish real partnership between India, China and ASEAN. I think the creation by the secretary-general of a group of friends of Myanmar to support the activities of Mr. Gambari was a good initiative. I would have preferred a smaller group; I think it is very difficult to operate so large a group. In any case, it was a positive initiative. I think this review of some of the elements of the strategy that must be taken into consideration."

DVB: Can you just comment on the transition from Khin Nyunt, how your working conditions have changed and what you perceive as the challenges for the next rapporteur?

Pinheiro: "I think that I was very lucky. Because ambassador Razali and I, we were operating at a juncture where the military, that is Khin Nyunt and group, was very much open to dialogue with the international community. If you take into consideration that they received Amnesty , how you can imagine a visit by Amnesty now as it was?

"Sometimes, I have the feeling that the world or the international community has lost a good opportunity, perhaps, to give Khin Nyunt more elements. It is not guaranteed that he would not have fallen. But I think perhaps the ambassador Razali was correct in saying that the prime minister needed some more concrete engagement from the international community to prove that his approach was possible.

"He never told this to me but I think that it will be fair to expect that the constitution or the referendum would not be the same as under senior general Than Shwe. That perhaps the referendum would not have been the same sham as it was, or the total absence of inclusiveness in the constitution. But this is a political science fiction. What I know is that the conditions of the present political environment are very difficult for this engagement. We saw this during the humanitarian offerings after the cyclone.

"Then, I think it will not be an easy task for my successor because he's arriving at a very difficult juncture. In the middle of a roadmap that has indicated that, perhaps we don't have a roadmap, perhaps we have a roadblock to democracy because what we will get is consolidated authoritarianism."

DVB: Do you have anything to say to your successor about the constitution and upcoming election in 2010? What would your strategy be?

Pinheiro: "I think that it would be pretentious to say anything to the new special rapporteur. I prefer to say that, I think that perhaps it will be the moment not to continue considering the roadmap a transition. I think that this will change dramatically. Or this will oblige the whole international community to have another strategy, to interact. I think that it's a fake political process. Nowadays that I don't have any other responsibility, I think that it's very risky to continue expecting that from the roadmap, the other stages of the roadmap, will achieve something positive, just following up a process that goes nowhere. It just goes to normalise the military dictatorship."

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