UN war crimes probe ‘still just an idea’

No movement has been made by the UN on an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ruling junta in Burma, a UN spokesperson has said.

The call for a commission of inquiry was made in August by the UN’s special rapporteur for Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, and follows demands by rights groups for a top-level probe into gross human right abuses committed by the military generals, who are preparing for controversial elections on 7 November.

But Quintana’s proposal “is not something that’s gone beyond an idea”, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said last week. “Mr. Quintana has proposed that idea. Whether anybody takes that up is up to the various bodies of the UN system.”

Asked by a reporter what the next step would be, he responded: “Ultimately, the bodies of the UN system, including the Human Rights Council, can consider Mr. Quintana’s views and see whether any further steps need to be taken.”

Han said in August that he was “not aware of any of the [UN] bodies…taking up this particular issue”.

The probe was given its highest endorsement last month after the US said it would throw its weight behind an investigation, while an anonymous White House official told the Washington Post that US sanctions on Burma may also be tightened.

Both the US and the UN appear to have had a torrid time encouraging the military junta, which has ruled Burma in various guises since 1962, to embark on the road to democratic reform. Washington’s decision last year to pursue a policy of engagement has produced no results, and the Obama administration has since toughened its rhetoric.

Meanwhile, the UN has come under fire as it continues to vacillate over appointing a successor to Ibrahim Gambari, the oft-criticised envoy to Burma who was reassigned to Sudan in December last year. In January it defended the hiatus on reappointing an envoy by claiming that UN Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar was temporarily filling the role.

But perhaps its most scathing criticism was reserved for Ban Ki-moon, whose once vocal and consistent condemnation of the junta appears to have quietened in the past year: in a leaked 50-page report in July, the former chief of the UN’s anti-corruption agency, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, said that the UN secretariat was in a “process of decay” after three years of “absence of strategic guidance and leadership” under Ban, and that its “relevance…in disarmament, in Myanmar [Burma]” was highly questionable.

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