By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 13, 2007; A12
UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 12 -- China and Russia on Friday jointly vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution criticizing Burma's human rights record, striking a blow to the Bush administration's year-long campaign to use the U.N. Security Council to spotlight the repressive rule of Burma's military junta.
Friday's vote was part of a broader diplomatic effort by Beijing and Moscow to prevent the United States and its Western allies from using the 15-nation council to censure some of the countries particularly known for rights abuses, including governments in Belarus, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
They were joined by one of the council's most influential Third World countries, South Africa. It also opposed the U.S. resolution on the grounds that the Security Council has no mandate to scold or sanction Burma, also known as Myanmar, for abuses on its own soil.
"We believe that the situation in this country does not pose any threat to international or regional peace; this opinion is shared by a large number of states, including most importantly those neighboring Myanmar," Russia's ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, told the council. "We find that attempts aimed at using the Security Council to discuss issues outside its purview are unacceptable."
The United States secured nine votes for the resolution in the 15-nation council. Congo, Qatar and Indonesia abstained, arguing that the U.N. Human Rights Council is the appropriate venue for addressing Burma's human rights record.
Despite the tepid support for the U.S. initiative, virtually all council members -- including China -- expressed concerns about Burma's behavior. Indonesia's envoy, Rezlan Ishar Jenie, urged Burma's government to heed international calls to restore "democracy and human rights" to the country.
Burma's ambassador, Kyaw Tint Swe, praised China, Russia and South Africa for opposing the resolution, which he said was based on "patently false information."
The Bush administration's acting U.N. ambassador, Alejandro Wolff, said the United States was "deeply disappointed" by the council's failure to confront Burma. But he said the United States decided to force a vote to assure the Burmese people that "we won't forget you."
The vote initially faced resistance from some officials within the State Department and from European envoys, who feared it would damage U.S. and European relations with China while exposing the depth of Third World opposition to Security Council interference in Burma's affairs.
But President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided it was worth making the point on a matter of principle, according to U.S. officials.
R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, challenged suggestions that the effort had backfired, highlighting a growing rift between the West and the developing world over human rights. "We don't consider this a defeat," Burns said. "We did the right thing. We stood up for universal human values."
Burma's generals have ruled the country since 1962, presiding over one of the world's most repressive governments. U.N. rights monitors have accused the government of conducting a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that has displaced more than 1 million people. The government has also held Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the period since her political party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide election victory in 1990. The military refused to recognize the election results.
The defeated resolution called on Burma's rulers to release Suu Kyi and more than 1,100 of her political supporters, cease attacks on the country's ethnic minority, and begin a democratic transition. It also called on Burma to halt the widespread use of rape by the armed forces and to back efforts by the International Labor Organization to end forced labor in Burma.
China led opposition to the U.S. initiative, highlighting its emergence as an increasingly assertive diplomatic force at the United Nations. Last year, it played a central role in the selection of South Korean Ban Ki Moon as the United Nations' first Asian secretary general in more than 35 years.
This is only the fifth time that China's Communist government has cast its veto since it joined the United Nations in 1971, a tiny fraction of the 254 vetoes cast by the other four permanent members of the Security Council. The United States, for instance, has cast its veto 82 times and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) has cast its veto 122 times. The last time China and Russia cast a double veto was in 1972.
"No country is perfect," Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya told the council. "Similar problems exist in other countries as well."