by Lalit K Jha / Washington, The Irrawaddy, 14 Dec 2007

Although civil opposition to the Burmese military junta might appear to have subsided, a report released this week claims that the “Saffron Revolution” is not yet over and the desire for change among the Burmese people is “greater than ever.”

The report released by the International Federation for Human Rights and the International Trade Union Congress calls on the UN Security Council to pass a binding resolution against the military government in Burma and urges the international community to act and help the people of Burma in achieving their goal of democracy and rule of law in the country. The FIDH is an apex body of 155 human rights bodies from nearly 100 countries, while the ITUC is the world’s largest trade union federation.

In its 50-page report titled “Saffron Revolution Is Not Over,” the FIDH-ITUC concluded that the violent repression, particularly against revered monks leading peaceful demonstrations, has deeply antagonized Burmese society and has further alienated the population from its current military leaders.

“The level of fear, but also anger amongst the general population is unprecedented, as even religious leaders are now clearly not exempt from such violence and repression,” the report states. This is different from the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988, when monks were not directly targeted. In present-day Burma, all segments of the population have grown hostile to the regime, including factions within the military’s own ranks, it stated.

Observing that the “desire to change is greater than ever,” the report asserted that the future of Burma will depend on three factors: the extent to which the population will be able to organize new rounds of social movement; the reaction of the State Peace and Development Council; and the influence the international community—the UN in particular—can exert on the junta.

The Burmese authorities were forced to accept the good offices mission of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, while UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro was allowed access to the country for the first time in four years. In addition, Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the National League for Democracy were given permission to meet with each other for the first time since May 2003.

“Yet these positive signs are still weak: a genuine process of political change has not started yet,” the report states. “Such a process, involving the democratic parties and ethnic groups, is fundamental to establishing peace, human rights and development in Burma. To achieve that, the international community must keep its focus on Burma, and maximize its efforts and capacity to help bring about political transition.”

There are four key principles and four key leverage points to influence the SPDC regime, which, if implemented, should force the regime to negotiate a peaceful transition, in which the military would become a professional body in charge of defending the country against external threats, and not a tool for repression in the hands of a dictatorship.

These principles could loosely be defined as: keeping Burma a priority; acknowledging that increasing pressure on the junta is useful and not harmful; accepting responsibility for Burma instead of passing the buck; and implementing a two-pronged approach in order to influence the regime and encourage the people of Burma.

Leverage points include: a binding Security Council resolution based on the responsibility to protect and the fact that Burma is a threat to peace; cutting the SPDC’s economic lifeline (comprehensive sanctions, in particular, on the key priority sectors of oil and gas, timber, gems and financial services, with due consideration for exceptions on justified humanitarian or similar grounds); and efforts to prepare for transition, the report stated.

Observing that the demand for reform in Burma is profound and insistent and that the determination of the democratic movement is strong, FIDH-ITUC urged the international community to seize the opportunity of ending military dictatorship in Burma.

“A business-as-usual approach to the current situation is no longer defensible; nor can it succeed in contributing positively to change. Instead, clear benchmarks should be set for a transition towards democracy, and progress towards this objective must be closely monitored,” it said.

If the military government fails to take key positive steps within a reasonable time, the international community should draw the required conclusions from the absence of progress, it said. In that case, an agenda of escalating demands should be pushed forward.

The international community cannot take the risk of losing the current window of opportunity, according to the report, which said, “The widespread and persistent human rights violations committed in Burma put the willingness of the international community to the test. It is our collective capacity to effectively realize and promote peace, human rights and democracy, which is at stake. The lives, human rights, dignity and future of Burma’s 54 million people require concerted and focused commitment from the international community now, and not at some undetermined time in the future.”