India and South Africa will take up a two-year membership of the UN Security Council next year but their appointment to the powerful grouping has concerned Burma observers.
They are among five UN member states, including Colombia, Portugal and Germany, recently appointed to the Council’s temporary seats. According to analysts, however, they have little leverage over the permanent members – China, Russia, Britain, US and France.
South Africa’s last stint as a Council member came under fire from rights groups after it refused to sanction a resolution in 2007 condemning rights abuses by the junta in Burma. It did the same to prevent the Council from criticising the Zimbabwean government, and in both cases Russia and China had led the defence.
It is in the Security Council that some of the fieriest international debates over Burma have played out, with the chamber pitting two of the junta’s strongest critics, the US and UK, against its key economic and security allies, Russia and China. But while China has used its power of veto only six times, it is the US that leads the way with 82.
This conflict of interest could scupper any progress towards indicting junta chief Than Shwe at the International Criminal Court (ICC), an issue that has grown in prominence in recent months and which has received backing from key Security Council players, including the US and France.
India’s admittance will raise further concerns about the Council’s power to take any action on Burma. Delhi’s once-vocal condemnation of the junta changed in the mid-1990s to a policy of engagement, primarily to secure economic interests, and it has shifted its position to one of caution in criticising the generals.
“The fact that India and South Africa are on board probably means that the ICC issue is now further away than before,” said political analyst Aung Naing Oo, who claimed that the chances of indictment were slim in the first place.
“India is very close to the Burmese military, and they have a bigger fish to fry. They also have to look at the bigger picture: geopolitically, there are issues [other than Burma] that are imperative to India, and if it ever comes to a vote [on the ICC], I’m not sure that India will vote yes: they may abstain.”
South Africa has however been critical of the ruling junt, with comparisons made between its 1983 constitution, which looked to legitimise apartheid rule through only token participation of ethnic groups, with Burma’s controversial 2008 constitution.
South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim told DVB that the transition to democracy that the junta promises after the 7 November elections cannot happen unless certain conditions are met.
“The [Burmese] government needs to create conditions for free dialogue, as well as releasing all political prisoners and lifting the ban on political parties and activists. Importantly, like South Africa, it should allow all exile to come back and participate in the dialogue.