The Rosett Report

In the UN Dollars-for-Dictators Series, Next Up: Burma

From Bangkok, via Malaysia’s Bernama news agency, comes a breaking story headlined “Myanmar Abusing UN Aid, Says Human Rights Group.” The lead sentence tells a story familiar to those who have been following the UN Cash-for-Kim scandal in North Korea, or, before that, the UN Oil-for-Food scandal in Iraq. It says: “The military junta in Myanmar [Burma] has embarked on forced labour, extortion and land confiscation in several projects funded or supported by United Nations agencies, the Karen Human Rights Group claimed today.”

Here we go again, with yet more reasons to question the UN’s predilection for collaborating with tyrants, all in the name of good works. The effect is to fortify the grip on ordinary people of the very tyrants whose misrule causes poverty and suffering — which the UN then purports to help with yet more aid. It’s great business for tyrants, and great business for the UN. But talk about a vicious cycle for the poor and oppressed, who are actually harmed, although in theory they are the reason that billions of U.S. tax dollars meant for aid get turned over the UN.

This latest tale features all the usual UN suspects — familiar from both Cash for Kim and Oil-for-Food — including the UN Development Program, UNICEF, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, along with a number of other aid outfits.

The news story draws on a 121-page report released April 24 in Bangkok by a small human rights outfit, the Karen Human Rights Group (“Karen” is the name of a Burmese ethnic minority) which according to its web site has spent years “documenting the human rights situation in rural Burma by working directly with rural villagers who are suffering abuses such as forced labour, systematic destruction of villages and crops, forced relocation, extortion, looting, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual assault and summary executions.”

The report goes on to allege that “The vast majority of these abuses are committed by soldiers and officials of the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC), Burma’s ruling military junta.”

There is plenty in this report that bears looking into, such as the allegation that the FAO has paid the Burmese junta $14 million for a crop cultivation program which the junta may be diverting into a crop cultivation scheme involving “widespread forced labour and extortion, and aims to produce biofuel for military use.” No doubt we will be hearing more both from and about the UN in response to these allegations. For now, here’s an excerpt from the report, which ought to provoke a lot of thought in Washington about what UN programs like the UNDP and UNICEF are really doing in the field:

“The SPDC [the Burmese junta] has been able to utilise large internationally-funded projects to further its political agenda and undermine the rights of villagers in Karen areas. UNICEF, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UNAIDS, CARE and Medecins du Monde, for example, all provide funding for the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association, a coercive parastatal agency controlled by the SPDC and implicated in widespread extortion as part of its vigorous recruitment drives, wherein villagers are ordered to provide a quota of ‘members’ roughly equivalent to one woman per household, and pay money to the organisation for their membership applications. In some areas, villagers have been led to believe that access to the UNICEF-funded polio innoculation programmes requires that they enlist in the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation, another coercive parastatal organisation involved in similar coercive recruitment practices and demands for money.”