Europe tries threats to open Burma (Myanmar) to aid
Leaders hope their charges of a crime against humanity will push the junta to expand relief efforts.
European leaders have accused Burma (Myanmar) of a crime against humanity for its stubborn response to cyclone aid relief, in a tactic to pressure the regime and save lives.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
While also using "soft power" diplomacy to pry open channels to the leadership and persuade the generals to relent, ministers from France to Finland have been brandishing the strongest possible language – which comes with subtle legal undertones.
A "crime against humanity" is one of four scenarios which, under a 2005 United Nations doctrine, can trigger forcible international humanitarian action. Strictly speaking, it only applies to cases of war. But if the UN agreed that such a crime was being perpetrated, the case for UN-backed intervention would become compelling.
In practice, both sides know this is a last resort, but the Europeans are brandishing the threat to coerce the regime into action.
The tactic may be working. The military junta ruling Burma has softened its stance somewhat in recent days, agreeing to more humanitarian help from regional powers – and to a visit by UN chief Ban Ki Moon, who is expected to arrive in the country Thursday.
But they are still balking at the kind of large-scale foreign intervention that Europe and the US want to see across the Irrawaddy Delta, where aid groups fear more than 130,000 have died since the May 3 cyclone. The generals say the rescue effort is over and now it's time for reconstruction. The UN by contrast says 1.4 million people still need urgent help.
"All different forms of pressure have been voiced in the last days and weeks," says John Clancy, spokesman for European Union (EU) humanitarian aid commissioner Louis Michel, who visited Rangoon last week. "If all of this pressure manages to open up [the country] even a little bit and allow in aid to save lives, then it will be important."
If Europe is adopting a good-cop, bad-cop approach, then Mr. Michel was the good cop. His visit – during which he reassured the junta there was no political subplot at play – paved the way for visits by the UN's top humanitarian aid official, John Holmes, the British minister Mark Malloch-Brown and now Mr. Ban.
Ban will meet the junta head Gen. Than Shwe, tour the stricken delta area, and return to Rangoon on Sunday to co-chair an aid-pledging conference.
But back in Europe, key figures are playing bad cop. France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, was the first to invoke a "crime against humanity" and said failure to act by the UN Security Council would be "cowardice."