Today the UN Security Council issued its first-ever "Presidential Statement" on Burma. Such a statement is agreed by all members of the Security Council, including China and Russia, but is not a resolution and is not binding in any way.
"This is a first step, when what Burma needs is a concrete measure," said Aung Din, former political prisoner and executive director of the US Campaign for Burma. "We hope the Council follows this move by implementing an arms embargo that stops countries from shipping weapons to this regime."
In the statement, the Security Council "unanimously and strongly deplored the use of violence against peaceful demonstrations in Burma. The Security Council emphasized importance of the early release of all political prisoners and remaining detainees. It also called on the military regime to create conditions necessary for a genuine dialogue with Daw Aung san Suu Kyi, all concerned parties and ethnic groups, to achieve an inclusive national reconciliation.
"We urge the members of the Security Council to be ready to discuss a resolution that includes an arms embargo very soon, as the regime will not listen to the voice of the Security Council if there is no concrete action beyond statements. An international arms embargo and a ban on investment are necessary measures to make the voice of the Security Council stronger," said Aung Din.
Meanwhile on Thursday China said the situation in Burma is "changing for the better." But China's view is far from reality, Din said. "Headlines around the world underline this dishonesty, reporting that more people are being arrested in Burma and tortured to death. The horror stories about the treatment of the Buddhist monks who have been arrested continue to leak out of Burma."
Human Rights Watch said the UN Security Council should impose and enforce a mandatory arms embargo on Burma, because of continuing massive violations of human rights. India, China, Russia, and other nations are supplying Burma with weapons that the military uses to commit human rights abuses and to bolster its ability to maintain power, Human Rights Watch said.
"It's time for the Security Council to end all sales and transfers of arms to a government that uses repression and fear to hang onto power," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of continuing to protect Burma's abusive generals, China and Russia should join other Security Council members to cut off the instruments of repression."
India and China are main suppliers of arms
Human Rights Watch said India appears to be one of the two main suppliers of advanced modern arms to the Burmese military. Earlier this year, India sold Burma two BN-2 Defender maritime surveillance aircraft that India had purchased from the United Kingdom in the 1980s. The aircraft were delivered in August, despite the British government's objections that they were being supplied to a country under a European Union arms embargo. India also sold T-55 tanks and 105mm artillery pieces to the Burmese military. As it wages war against ethnic insurgents, the Burmese military routinely uses weapons such as artillery and mortars in conflict areas to destroy villages and exact retributions against civilian settlements, HRW said.
The human rights organisation said India currently is preparing to send Burma aircraft, artillery, armored personnel carriers, tanks, ships and a host of small arms in the next year. Perhaps most alarming, India has offered to sell newly-developed Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) to Burma, manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL). These helicopters would give the Burmese military a sophisticated weapon platform to fire rockets and guns, which could be used with devastating effect against political demonstrations in urban areas or rural villages.
According to a recent report from Saferworld and Amnesty International, the Advanced Light Helicopters use superior European rockets and guns, as well as powerful French engines. Human Rights Watch has urged the manufacturers and countries where these products are made to call on the Indian government to end sales to Burma and to ensure proper monitoring and implementation of end-use agreements.
"India's close relationship with the Burmese military is a discredit to the 'world's largest democracy," said Adams. "The Indian authorities should be leading the efforts to end the supply of arms being used against the democracy movement in Burma."
China is the other main arms supplier. It has provided Burma with advanced helicopter gunships, arms production technology and support equipment such as trucks and vehicles. Chinese-manufactured helicopter gunships have been photographed supporting military actions in eastern Burma, where Burmese troops have committed war crimes against civilians and massive displacement through attacks on ethnic minority separatist groups, HRW said. Beijing has also supplied small arms, including mortars, landmines and assault rifles, as well as assistance in setting up an indigenous small-arms production capability. China has supplied a vast array of advanced military hardware to Burma, including fighter planes, naval vessels and tanks and other infantry support weapons.
"China says it wants stability and a peaceful solution to the crisis in Burma," said Adams. "But as long as Beijing continues to arm the Burmese military and give it political cover, the situation in Burma will remain violently unstable."
Human Rights Watch said Russia also supplies arms to Burma, including a deal for MiG-29 fighter planes in 2002.
South Korean companies including Daewoo International Corporation and several others have been accused of illegally boosting the capacity of the Burmese army to produce weaponry. Daewoo reportedly supplied technology and equipment to build a factory to produce mortar rounds near the town of Prome, leading to South Korean investigations and indictments against company officials.
North Korea has supplied truck-borne multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) and artillery pieces to Burma. North Korean engineers have also been contracted to build an underground tunnel complex at the new national capital at Nay Pyi Daw in central Burma, where the military leadership is based.
Human Rights Watch said Burma also has received weapons from Israel. In 2005, Israel was reported to have sold 150 Brazilian EE-9 Cascavels light tanks to Burma.
Human Rights Watch said an arms embargo should include a ban against training the Burmese military, paramilitary and police forces, all of which have been used to crush the pro-democracy movement in Burma. According to information received by Human Rights Watch, hundreds of Burmese defense forces officers are being trained in military academies in Russia on nuclear physics, artillery techniques and computer technology. Exiled Burmese media groups report that cyber-warfare activities that hacked their sites in the past week originated in Moscow. Russia and the Ukraine also have technical staff based in Burma to train air force and army personnel. Australia has included Burmese police and military officers in its counterterrorism training workshops at centers in Indonesia.
Other nations involved in training the Burmese military include China, which continues to train fighter pilots following the sale of F-7 Airguard fighter planes in the 1990s. Recent sales of advance weaponry from India will also require training assistance. India has offered Special Forces training to Burmese military units to aid joint operations along the shared border along northeast India and western Burma.
"The nations of the world are arming and training the Burmese military at the same time that they condemn Burma's human rights violations," Adams said. "These countries should back up their rhetoric with actions to avoid complicity in attacks on the Burmese people."
The Burmese spend an estimated 40 percent of the government budget on the military, while combined health and education expenditure is among the lowest in Asia. Military-run hospitals and schools are the best in the country, while civilian hospitals are poorly-funded and cannot respond to the widespread health crisis in HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. While Burma's people are among the region's poorest, senior military officials live lavishly. Instead of working to improve the lives of its people, the military routinely seizes land from civilians for defense establishments and frontline bases, using forced labor in construction.
"The world should insist that the Burmese government address the country's massive poverty and build up its health and education infrastructure," said Adams. "Instead, many countries are draining Burma of its limited resources through military sales, profiting handsomely while many Burmese struggle to put food on the table."