Written by U Ne Oo on 2000-01-18
There has been current United Nations Security Council debate on whether international protection and assistance be extended to the internally displaced people (IDPs).
Burma believed to have a large number of IDPs mainly as a result of government's counter-insurgency operations over the years. In true point of fact, the IDPs in Burma may be considered as "the refugees who still have not crossed international border". Ideally, in regards to provisions for in-country protection and assto provisions for in-country protection and assistance by international bodies, such as UNHCR, there should be no reason in distinguishing returnee/refugees and the IDPs. Once UNHCR and NGOs get unhindered access to Burma, the assistance etc should certainly be extended to these people.
Internationally, however, the issues regarding IDP are very controversial subject. IDPs appears whenever there is major armed-conflict, such as Chechnya for example. It remains to be seen how much US and UN can make a head-way on this subject. Such general debate at UN can hei at UN can heighten the awareness about the plights of IDPs throughout the world. However, the improvement to a specific situation of IDPs and refugees, of course, needs substantial political commitment: in the case of Burma, we still have not seen any sign of UNHCR and Security Council taking actions about situation of refugees in Thailand/Bangladesh etc. [By the way, there have been a very good collection of report about IDPs and, especially, humanitarian situation by recent issue of BURMA DEBATE, VOL VI, NO 3, 1999. I would 1999. I would recommend our friends to look at that report. Burma Debate can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org, Post: P.O.Box 19126, Washington, DC 20036 (Mary Pack is the editor)].
SPDC/SLORC IN A LATEST TWIST ON IDP IN SHAN STATE
There has also been a report about SPDC/SLORC relocating opium-growing Shan hill farmers to government designated areas. The move is, at its worst, to be seen as SPDC/SLORC trying to soften international criticism on government's forced relocation programs. At its best, this move may be seen asmay be seen as SPDC/SLORC's feeble attempt to draw international attention to the government's counter-narcotics efforts.
It is important to note that the criticism on government's forced relocation program are principally based on (1) the lost of livelihood for the displaced and (2) authorities' lack of attention to humanitarian situation of the displaced. Such criticism on government's forced relocation programs will continue regardless of these programs had been undertaken in the context of "counter-narcotics effo-narcotics efforts" or "counter-insurgency campaigns". The proper way to avoid the criticism is government to allow unhindered access for all international humanitarian organisations, such as UNHCR and NGOs, to the displaced population.
REFUGEE PETITION IN THAILAND
When turning to the refugee situation in Thailand, as of last week, the UNHCR in Bangkok as well as Karen Refugee Committees were still not receiving/unaware about the reported petition organised by the chief of one of the refugee camp. Since puttingp. Since putting forward such petition to UNHCR has been a right move, grassroots initiatives such as that of organising petition will be very helpful whenever we make request for help to UN Security Council. It will certainly be helpful to send few petition to UNHCR in Bkk as a start. Such petition are to be promoted principally as the refugees expressing interests in voluntary repatriation. Perhaps, work of collecting petition from refugees can be taken as ongoing activity by refugee leaders.
REPATRIATION AS UN-CONTROVERSIAL PLAN
Since the successful resolution of Kosovo crisis, the organised mass repatriation of refugees with supervision of UNHCR become less controversial. It was not quite so few years ago: any talk of repatriation of refugees being considered controversial by most NGOs and met with considerable resistance. Thanks to the UN and international community for their work on Kosovo refugee situation. The international community's "Kosovo Message" against the oppression on civilian population now been heard bn population now been heard by all dictatorial governments. How much of this "Kosovo Message" is reaching to the refugees on the ground is still remain to be seen. From our part as activists, it's about time for every available avenues being used to get attention of UN Security Council and international community on this matter.
UNCERTAINTY IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS
Despite our grassroots efforts and the best of advocacy, there can still be no action forthcoming from UNSC in this year too. One of the thing in internatioing in international politics is that the difficulty to gauge available support for any action. In international politics, there appears to be too many factors that is unknown and unpredictable (for example, we have no idea at this time last year about East Timor may become a free and independent state!!). For this, we must prepare to wage a more tactical fight in this year if Security Council unable to make a move on Burma.
This year is also an election year in the United States. President Clinton is certainly not seeking re-eleseeking re-election. Regardless of who is incoming president (Democrat of Republican), the overall US policy on Burma will unlikely to bechanged. However, when an administration is changed, there will be discontinuity of detailed policy on Burma that can be affected. I would prefer, if UNSC cannot make move on Burma's refugee problem, it should impose international investment ban on Burma. That would atleast safeguard our leverage on SPDC/SLORC.
With best regards, U Ne Oo.
UN-REFUGEES US: SECURITY COUNCIL TACKLES DEBATE OVER WHO IS
DATE: 18:04 14-Jan-00
US: Security Council tackles debate over who is a refugee UN refugees
By Nicole Winfield
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 AP - The United States is rekindling an old debate at the United Nations over the definition of a refugee, arguing that anyone who flees fighting should be granted the same protection and care.
The United Nations, for a varations, for a variety of political and financial reasons, distinguishes between refugees who have crossed international borders to escape conflicts and those who leave their homes but remain in their countries.
These so-called "internally displaced people" often fall through the care cracks and receive less aid than refugees, who are protected under well-established humanitarian conventions.
Yesterday at the request of the United States, the Security Council held an open debate on the issue,&nbon the issue, which has grown more contentious in recent years as the number of internally displaced surpasses the number of refugees across the globe.
The United Nations estimates there are between 14 million and 15 million refugees worldwide. Another 20 million to 25 million are internally displaced people, or IDPs - half of them in Africa.
"These are people. And to a person who has been driven from his or her own home by conflict, there is no difference between being a refugee or an I refugee or an IDP in terms of what happened to them," US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke told the council.
"They're equally victims, but they're treated differently."
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees was created 50 years ago specifically to care for and protect refugees. At the time, refugees from Cold War-related conflicts between countries fueled mass population shifts across borders.
Today, however, most conflicts are internal and the population shifts occur within individual ithin individual countries.
While the internally displaced enjoy many of the same protections as refugees, UNHCR's mandate and resources - already stretched thin caring for refugees - enable it to care for only about 5 million of the world's internally displaced.
Other UN agencies, such as the World Food Program and UN Children's Fund, often work in ad hoc arrangements with the International Committee of the Red Cross to care for uprooted people who don't leave their countries.
But even these arrangements don't always work. Governments may for political reasons be unwilling to accept international assistance, as is the case in Burma, Turkey and Algeria, Roberta Cohen, a guest scholar at The Brookings Institution, told a press conference.
In these cases, the government may consider the civilians to be part of the conflict, and citing its sovereignty, deny them international aid.
"Their own state authorities or rebel forces in control
the very cause of their
predicament," British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told the council.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, told council members that urgent action must be taken in Central Africa in particular "to compensate for the lack of protection mechanisms for internally displaced people."
Holbrooke went a step further calling for the United Nations to "erode if not erase" the distinction between refugees and internally displaced people and aced people and put responsibility for both under a single agency.
"I recognise that the distinction raises complex legal issues of international sovereignty," Holbrooke said. "But let us remember that individual lives are at stake."
China's UN ambassador Qin Huasun alluded to those legal issues, saying international aid should be given only "on the basis of respect of sovereignty, territorial integrity and noninterference into internal affairs."
China consistently stresses the righstresses the rights of countries to manage their own affairs, fearing international intervention in Tibet and Taiwan.
Canada's deputy UN Ambassador, Michel Duval, however, said such arguments didn't hold up.
"Where countries cannot or do not want to provide
to their populations, they nevertheless have
responsibility to provide
full access to them for others so that their basic needs
can be met,"
Duval said. AP ts
BURMA ANNOUNCES MASBURMA ANNOUNCES MASS ANTI-DRUG MIGRATION
By Dan Eaton
WAN HONE, Burma, Jan 16 AFP- Fifty thousand villagers will be uprooted from their homes in lucrative opium growing areas in Burma in an unprecedented mass migration project designed to cripple heroin production.
Burmese officials and members of the former insurgent group, the ethnic United Wa State Army (UWSA) unveiled the program late yesterday in remote Shan State, in the far north of Burma to invited foreign reporters.
They demanded international financial assistance for the project, and insisted Burma, one of the world's largest producers of heroin, was sincere in its bid to wipe out narcotics production within 15 years.
UWSA liaison officer Khin Maung Myint told reporters villagers would be moved to areas suitable for crops other than the poppies which cling to the sides of Shan State's rugged mountains and valleys.
"We intend to relocate 50,000 villagers in the next three years," he said, claiming some 10,000 people had already mohad already moved from the hill tops.
Military officers and UWSA men dressed in green battle fatigues refused to describe the operation as a "forced relocation" but insisted all target villagers will have to leave their homes.
Officials said United Nations International Drug control Program (UNDCP) or other agencies had not yet been informed of the project. No immediate comment was available from human rights groups or Burma's political opposition.
No independent verification of the government's or Wa claims was posa claims was possible.
Early arrivals from the mountains sat in a grubbby transit camp of straw huts scattered among smouldering stumps of a slashed and burned forest outside Wan Hone village, 15km from the Thai border.
Under the gaze of heavily-armed soldiers and members of the UWSA, which made peace with the junta in 1989, most were unwilling to comment on their fate or their removal from land occupied by their ancestors for centuries.
The UWSA, branded by the US State DEpartment as a leading drugs trafficking syndirafficking syndicate, was allowed to retain its weapons under the ceasefire and controls large areas of northern Burma.
Crop substitution programs, seen by many anti-drugs campaigners as essential to stamping out opium production, often fail to take root on remote wind-whipped uplands guarding Burma's borders with China and Thailand.
"Up north, it is very difficult to grow crops other than poppies," said Khin Moung Myint, whose native Chinese dialect was translateed by an interpreter employed by Burma's military.
Wan Hone farmstead will produce longans, a tropical fruit encased in a spine encrusted shell. Each household will be given two hectares already planted with the fruit, and the farm will eventually produce other crops and rear livestock.
Officials here were vague as to potential markets for new produce. In the past, some crop substitution programs have foundered--one producing sugar cane fell victim to a flooded market in neighbouring China.
Burma's top anti-drug official Colonel Kyaw Thein told reporters the goreporters the government would support those who move from the hills with enough rice for six months.
"We have been blamed so much, so now we are taking much more serious moves," he said, adding the government had spent 10 billion kyats, ($A3 billion) in official exchange rates to counter narcotics in eastern Shan State in the last decade.
"This is an unprecedented movement of people. I am not very optimistic of help or any other assistance -- some countries will not be funding us because of their own political agenda," heical agenda," he said.
Burma is treated as an international pariah by many Western states due to its human rights record and refusal to cede power to the elected opposition of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Critics of Burma's vaunted efforts to fight drugs, accuse the government of turning a blind eye to trafficking in exchange for ceasefire deals with ethnic groups.
They say generals have syphoned off drug money to support their military state apparatus and harbour drug lords like notorious Shan State kingpin Khun Sa.
Some Khun Sa.
Some agencies argue that cooperation with former drugs lords and the government is the only way to cut opium flowing through the notorious Golden Triangle region of Burma, Laos and Thailand to western cities.
Interpol's director of criminal intelligence Paul Higdon described such cooperation as "a pact with the devil" at a conference in Yangon last year, delivering an endorsement of Burma's anti-drug policies.
Meanwhile the Associated Press reported Burma's Colonel Kyaw Thein had told reporters up to 10 senior Buo 10 senior Burmese military officers and hundreds of lower ranking soldiers had been jailed in the past two years for involvement in the illegal drug trade.
He said that the most recent case was made a month ago against a lieutenant colonel posted along the border with India.
The highest ranking to have been jailed were colonels, Kyaw Thein said.
His comments confirmed a United States government report on Burma's drugs trade that involvement existed among corrupt unit commanders, especially in border areas where oper areas where opium and methamphetamines are produced and smuggled to other countries. AFP/AP bm