There are reports that UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived today in Burma, where he plans to deliver a message from Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and hopes to produce progress on what he is calling, in the consensus-loving lingo of the UN, “all fronts.” Let’s hope there is less moral equivalence to Gambari’s real message. (I do not hold out great hope for that; he is part of Kofi Annan’s old crowd. But perhaps this is his chance to redeem himself). What’s needed is not progress on all fronts, but progress on one front, which would be that of the demonstrating dissidents; and complete retreat and collapse on another front, which would be that of the military dictatorship.
Here’s something the UN could do to help. In the lineup of speechifiers still in the queue at the General Assembly meetings in New York, a speaker from Burma is scheduled to take a turn on the UN stage Monday afternoon, sandwiched between Algeria and Nepal. If the UN worthies take the organization’s charter even half seriously, they ought to deny anyone connected with the Burmese junta the right to speak.
They should offer the spot instead — by remote hookup, if need be — to a Burmese who represents the dreams of freedom for which Burmese demonstrators died in the suppressed uprising of 1988, and are dying again today. Obvious candidates would be one of the leaders among the dissident monks, or Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party in 1990 won a landslide victory in a genuine election, only to have its members brutalized, detained and swept aside by the military dictatorship. And if the junta will not allow such a speaker to address the UN General Assembly, then the best response would be to have no one speak. During the time allotted for Burma, better to let the members of the world assembly sit in silence, honoring the real Burma, which has no voice at the UN.
That won’t happen. But it should.