By THALIF DEEN/ IPS WRITER
UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council, which has remained virtually paralyzed on Palestine because of strong Western support for Israel, is considered equally ineffective on Burma (Myanmar) because of Chinese and Russian backing for the military junta in that politically troubled Southeast Asian nation.
A 60-page study by the New York-based Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict released here says it is time for the Security Council to "move swiftly" to protect the tens of thousands of Burmese children who are "raped, abducted and recruited as soldiers by the country's military and non-state armed groups (NSAGs)."
Asked why the Security Council continues to remain silent on Burma, Julia Freedson, director of Watchlist, told IPS there are several possible reasons.
"Monitoring reports being sent to the Security Council, through official UN channels about violations against children, are dismal," she said.
This is in part because authorities in Burma, and other key countries such as Thailand, block access by the United Nations to important segments of the country, thereby preventing documentation, she added.
However, many reliable sources from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have produced trustworthy documentation of sexual violence, killing and maiming, forced displacement and other violations which the Security Council should give more weight to, Freedson added.
Last year, both China and Russia exercised a rare double veto against a Western-sponsored resolution critical of the military regime, officially dubbed the State Peace Development Council (SPDC).
The Chinese and Russian support has prevented any UN sanctions against the SPDC, which is battling ethnic minorities complaining of military aggression and human rights violations.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member, has opposed any political involvement in the armed conflict, which it considers an internal affair outside the purview of the Security Council.
Asked how confident she was that the Security Council will eventually take any action—in the context of the opposition from Russia and China—Freedson said: "The geopolitical factors are a concern."
However, she pointed out, the dynamic in the Council in 2009 is different than it was last year.
Following last week's open debate in the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict, she said, "The sense is that there is now a deeper commitment to moving forward on the Council's obligations to hold perpetrators of violations against children accountable."
"We hope that Myanmar will not be an exception," Freedson added.
According to the Watchlist report, children as young as nine constantly face the threat of forced recruitment by security forces, non-state armed groups and civilians, even in public places such as bus or train stations and markets.
Armed forces have also occupied schools, recruited teachers and students for forced labor and planted landmines close to schools or on the paths to schools.
Asked how violations by the military junta compare with other countries, Freedson said violations in Burma are certainly on par with some of those countries that the international community considers the worst in the world like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or Afghanistan, where child mortality is comparable due to denial of humanitarian assistance and medical treatment by the Burmese authorities.
"On the issue of child soldiers, we don’t have precise figures because of lack of access for this type of monitoring, but trustworthy estimates have put the numbers in the tens of thousands," Freedson said.
If this is the case, she said, it could be among the highest, if not the highest number in the world.
At the same time, there are larger geopolitical factors inside the Security Council which have hampered action on Burma, Freedson said.
For example, the Security Council's special Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict deliberated for six months on their conclusions on Burma last year.
"It is our understanding that this was largely due to stalling tactics by China and others which do not want to see human rights issues in Myanmar discussed inside the Security Council," she said.
And when the Working Group finally issued their conclusions, they were disappointing and weak, she noted.
The Watchlist report includes several policy recommendations, including targeted measures on the Burmese government and relevant non-state armed groups, particularly if no real progress is achieved in ending the recruitment and use of children within a specified time frame. These sanctions should include travel bans, asset freezes or arms embargoes.
Meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been asked to provide information to the Security Council on all six grave violations called for under Resolution 1612, including sexual violence, attacks against schools, and denial of humanitarian assistance.
"Too much time has been wasted denying the extent of the crisis facing children in Myanmar's conflict zones," Freedson said. The United Nations must act now to protect these children and bring the perpetrators to justice, she added.