12 January 2007 China and Russia today vetoed a draft resolution in the Security Council – the first use of multiple vetoes at the Council since 1989 – that had called on Myanmar to release all political prisoners, begin widespread dialogue and end its military attacks and human rights abuses against ethnic minorities.
Sponsored by the United States and the United Kingdom, the text received nine votes in favour, the necessary number for a majority. Those in favour were Belgium, France, Ghana, Italy, Panama, Peru, Slovakia, the UK and the US. But the permanent members China and Russia issued vetoes, and South Africa also voted against the resolution. There were three abstentions: Indonesia, Qatar and the Republic of the Congo.
Opponents of the text said that while Myanmar was experiencing clear social and economic problems, the country was not a serious threat to international peace and security and therefore the issue should not be dealt with by the Security Council.
Speaking before the vote, Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said the problems in Myanmar were largely the internal affairs of a sovereign State and the Government and other groups should be allowed to continue their efforts towards reconciliation.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the issue would be better handled by other UN organs, particularly the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly and humanitarian agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO).
The ambassadors also said the resolution would hamper diplomatic efforts being carried out through the good offices of the Secretary-General, which included the recent visit to Myanmar by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari.
After the vote, US Acting Ambassador Alejandro Wolff and UK Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry both expressed deep disappointment, saying the resolution would have sent a much-needed signal from Council members.
Mr. Wolff said Myanmar’s military regime “arbitrarily arrests, tortures, rapes and executes its own people, wages war on minorities within its own borders, and builds itself new cities, while looking the other way as refugee flows increase, narcotics and human trafficking grow, and communicable diseases remain untreated.”
But Myanmar’s Ambassador Kyaw Tint Swe said the draft resolution was based on “patently false” information and, citing UN Development Programme (UNDP) data, said his country was making economic gains. He added that the Council was clearly exceeding its mandate by considering the issue.
The draft text called on Myanmar to release all political prisoners, including the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 10 of the past 16 years, and to allow the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other political parties to operate freely.
It also demanded an end to human rights violations against the members of ethnic minorities, “including widespread rape and other forms of sexual violence carried out by members of the armed forces.”
Last September the Council agreed to focus on the situation inside Myanmar in a vote taken during a procedural meeting, in which no member’s vote has the power of veto.
The most recent Council veto was used in November, when the US blocked a draft resolution that would have called, among other measures, for the withdrawal of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip. Sponsored by Qatar, that text followed an Israeli military operation in the town of Beit Hanoun that killed 18 civilians.
The last time multiple vetoes were used was in 1989, when the US, the UK and France blocked a resolution on the situation in Panama. The last time China and Russia both vetoed a resolution was in 1972, and that concerned the Middle East.