Momentum for Burma Commission of Inquiry Seeming to Falter

Today, Ban Ki Moon embarks on a swing through South east Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and China.  As this AFP preview of his trip notes, Ban will likely face stiff resistance to the idea of appointing some kind of commission of inquiry into human rights abuses by the Burmese junta.

As Colum Lynch reports, China is leading the effort to scuttle an American proposal for a UN commission of inquiry:

Just days after the Obama administration decided in August to support the prosecution of Burma’s top military rulers for war crimes, China’s U.N. ambassador, Li Baodong, paid a confidential visit to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon‘s chief of staff to make his opposition clear: The U.S. proposal, he said, was dangerous and counterproductive, and should not be allowed to proceed, three U.N.-based sources familiar with the exchange told Turtle Bay.

Li’s meeting with Vijay Nambiar, who also serves as Ban’s Burma envoy, was the beginning of an all-out campaign by Beijing to thwart a key American initiative that was designed to raise the political costs for Burma’s military junta for failing to open its Nov. 7 election to the country’s political opposition. In recent months, China has mounted a high-octane, Western-style diplomatic effort, lobbying European and Asian countries to oppose the measure on the grounds that it could undermine the country’s fragile political transition, according to diplomats and human rights advocates.

The United States first floated the idea of a commission of inquiry for Burma this August, when it became clear that Burma’s forthcoming elections were going to be a complete sham. Commissions of Inquiry–or “Special Procedures” as they are bureaucratically known —  can be useful catalysts for human rights.  But to be successful, they require international backing, particularly from regional organizations or representative UN bodies.  There is an ASEAN meeting in Hanoi later this week, but so far Burma seems to be “off the agenda.”

So, it would seem that outside a few western democracies, there is barely support for holding the Burmese junta to account. Unless that diplomatic calculus changes, it would seem that the commission of inquiry proposal will languish.