Junta opting for rights of the indigenous peoples?
As the year draws to a close one of the strangest things that has happened to Burma is not that the Senior General is still alive despite several reports of his deteriorating health, but that it was among the 143 nations that had voted in favor of the Declaration the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the UN General Assembly on 13 September 2007.
It was at a time when all our eyes were on the rising waves of protest in Burma against
the abrupt raise of fuel prices by the military government and most of us had
missed the report from the UN. At least I had.
But according to Update 76 published recently by the Indigenous People’s Center for Documentation, Research and Information (doCip), the Declaration was adopted by a recorded vote of 143 in favor (including Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam) to 4 against with 11 abstentions.
So the junta may not be so bad as most of us love to think despite the killings of monks 13 days later, that could be compared to the massacre of more than 300 monks by the Shan king of Ava Hs๖ Harn Fah (Thohanbwa in Burmese) in 1543 and another massacre of more than 3,000 Mon monks by King Aung Zeya of Shwebo in 1757. (An interesting note should be made here that while Hs๖ Harn Fah became ‘a full-blooded savage’, according to historian G.E.Harvey, the latter went on to become Alaungpaya – a Buddha-incarnate – and one of the three heroes of the Senior General.)
Update 76 however shows us only the 9 amendments to the document A/ 61/ L.67, as the text of the Declaration is known. I have scanned through it and decided it wasn’t so bad. (The full text can be read in www.docip.org)
Interestingly, two of the amendments are quite important at least for ‘Myanmar’, without which its ambassador to the UN would not have dared to vote in favor:
- Deletion of the paragraph recognizing the right of the indigenous peoples “freely to determine their relationships with States”
- Addition that declaration does not authorize or encourage “any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States.”
Apart from them, the other amendments appear to be okay for the downtrodden beings known as the indigenous peoples, especially:
- States must fulfill the obligations in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations
- States must acknowledge “the fundamental importance of the right to self determination of all peoples, by virtue of which they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural developments”
- “States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for, any form of forced assimilation or integration”
- “Military activities shall not take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples”
- “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources”
- “Human rights and fundamental freedoms of all shall be respected”
As said earlier, perhaps because of my being legally illiterate, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)’s adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples strikes one as perfectly proper and praiseworthy.
The trouble is I’ve known the generals and their frame of mind for too long. After all, the 1962 coup by the military would not have taken place if the rights of the indigenous peoples as embodied in the Panglong Agreement of 1947 were respected, let alone other countless excesses committed by the coup leader Gen Ne Win and his successors.
Naturally, I am filled with deep and terrible suspicion.
I hope, with the New Year coming and with a new set of mind, the generals will prove me wrong.