Speaking in New York before the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win delivered a stern rebuke to the perceived legality and morality of a "unilateral" sanctions policy in a discourse clearly aimed at depicting Burma as the victim of a rogue superpower within the context of a wider international community.
The tirade, on the session's last day of debate, linked the prospects of a more economically integrated Burma to the betterment of both the region's and world's economies, portraying the ruling junta as admirably conducting domestic affairs and more in line with international norms than those countries that have adopted a hard-line stance against the generals in Naypyitaw.
"We can only solve the international problems of economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character by working together," proclaimed Nyan Win. "To do this, powerful countries should refrain from practicing hegemonic policies, either through political or economic pressures."
"In the global village that we live, mutual respect, understanding and tolerance must be the values that we espouse," continued the Burmese Foreign Minister.
Labeling economic sanctions against Burma as "Not only unfair but immoral," and accusing a sanctions policy of taking its highest toll on the country's women and children, Nyan Win stressed that "progress could only ever be achieved through development, rather than coercive economic measures."
The Foreign Minister's words appeared designed to echo Article 2 of a 1994 resolution by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which reached a conclusion that coercive economic measures prevent the full realization of all human rights, with special reference to children, women and the elderly.
The junta's interpretation of sanctions as unilateral and illegal stems from opinions issued from various sources, including from the United Nations, the non-aligned movement and international jurists.
One year previously, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a resolution that condemned the use of political and economic measures against other nations, particularly against Third World countries, since such actions hinder the right to development. The United States has long been critical of the Council as providing a refuge for some of the world's worst human rights violators.
Further, a study co-authored by the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies determined that: "Economic sanctions and blockades…are comparable in their devastating impact to a weapon of mass destruction directed at a whole people. They are incompatible with civilized human behavior as earlier defined in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907."
The Burmese representative also took issue with the notion of Burma as a relevant topic of discussion for the United Nations Security Council, postulating that since Burma represents no threat to international peace and security the Security Council is without jurisdiction on the matter, a view the Foreign Minister said was shared by the non-aligned movement.
The non-aligned movement itself draws a vast majority of its membership from Asia, Africa and South America, and consists of 118 full-members and 15 countries with observer status. There are 192 states represented in total in the United Nations.
Along the lines of proportional representation, Nyan Win called for the immediate and democratic reform of the Security Council, where five veto wielding permanent members – the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia – currently maintain a stranglehold over the Council's actions. China is the only country of the five with a tie to the non-aligned movement, serving as an observer.
Further, the junta's representative told the Assembly that his country could – if allowed – could significantly help in alleviating regional energy and food crises; citing Burma's potential energy contributions in the hydroelectric, natural gas and oil fields.
The legality of unilateral sanctions was far from the only issue of which the Foreign Minister sought to showcase a Burma in step and working with the United Nations.
Nyan Win told the Assembly that paddy fields destroyed in May's devastating cyclone had now been replanted, an assessment fortuitously supported yesterday in a statement by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Primary school enrollment, which the Foreign Minister placed at 98 percent – well ahead of the regional average – is actually a percentage lower than a 2006 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural survey.
And Nyan Win's assertion that the infection rate of HIV in Burma is now decreasing concurs with a study, conducted jointly with the World Health Organization, which found an infection rate of 0.67 percent in 2007 as compared to 0.94 percent in 2000.
But the overarching and lasting message from the Burmese representative has to be that the country's military junta has no intention of deviating from its self-authored seven step roadmap to democracy, according to which a general election scheduled for 2010 is to be step number five – as it presents itself as continuing to provide the most apt leadership possible while under constant siege from international political opponents, domestic political opposition never once figuring into the Foreign Minister's analysis.
"Peace and stability now prevails in almost all parts of the country," Nyan Win told those assembled in New York.
However only twelve months earlier Burma's ruling junta looked to be on the verge of crumbling, as mass protests led by the Buddhist clergy took to Burma's streets in protest over the leadership decisions of Burma's generals, dire economic conditions and the lack of political reform. The junta was only able to restore "stability" through violence – resulting in at least 31 killed – and the imposition of wide ranging arrests and tactics of suppression.
Yet Nyan Win's speech on Monday succinctly laid out the junta's argument as to why it believes the United Nations – and a majority of its member states – would be truest to the broader international community's own goals and mandates by supporting the junta's roadmap in the face of unilateral actions which the junta contends are not only illegal and immoral, but violate the very spirit of the world body.