UN inquiry into elections would face powerful foes

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Indy Politics

With every sign now that the promised elections, if they ever take place, will be a hopeless charade, the focus of campaigning may soon start to shift beyond fruitless dialogue to the radical idea of holding the military junta to account internationally for the human suffering they have inflicted on their people with impunity for decades.

A legally significant first step occurred when the UN's special rapporteur Tomas Quintana concluded earlier this month that there had been in Burma a "pattern of gross and systematic violation of human rights". The systematic nature of such abuses as forced labour, conscription of child soldiers and the mass rape by soldiers of women in minority regions, was the "result of a state policy", he stressed.

Some international lawyers have long argued that the UN could legally establish a commission of inquiry into allegations of crimes against humanity and after his mission to Burma which included meetings with the junta, Mr Quintana has endorsed this path.

For some campaigners, the ideal action would be to drag Burma's leaders before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But this is a non-starter since it would require referral by the UN Security Council and China would lead a veto.

A UN-mandated investigation instead would be politically more acceptable. But several pressure groups believe it could also deliver a potentially more effective form of pressure on the generals in Naypyidaw.

Many powerful interests remain to be convinced. Behind the ritual Western condemnations of Burma, EU member states are divided. Britain, the colonial power, is in the forefront but France's oil interests in Burma could doom Mr Quintana's recommendation before it ever gets to a UN vote.