End the Burma Exception and Refer the Military Junta to the International Criminal Court

06/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Today the world watches aghast as the SPDC, the military junta controlling Burma, puts Aung San Suu Kyi, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, into the notorious Insein prison for the offense of an uninvited intruder coming to her home. Just a year ago, there was shock and horror as the SPDC blocked efforts to distribute aid after Burma was devastated by Cyclone Nargis. These actions come as no surprise from this military regime. Yet in the discussions and debates on Burma, be it about sanctions, engagement, arms embargo, political prisoners or any of the myriad responses to the atrocities taking place there, until recently one word has been noticeably absent. Where are the calls for justice?

Where in the Burma discussion are the voices that are calling for an investigation of Israel's actions in Gaza or for the arrest of U.S. officials for torture? Where are the calls for justice that led to a referral of the situation in Darfur, Sudan to the International Criminal Court? The international community has a responsibility to respond to the denial of basic rights and the crimes against the people of Burma; justice must be a part of the equation.

There have been thirty-eight resolutions condemning the situation in Burma from the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council (formerly Commission). The regime's scorched earth policies have included the destruction of 3,300 ethnic minority villages, the conscription of tens of thousands of child soldiers, the forced displacement of over one million refugees and internal displaced persons, and the widespread rape of ethnic women. Yet while the military junta in Burma was receiving an ineffective tongue lashing, in other situations with clear evidence of crimes that threaten international peace and security the United Nations and its most powerful body, the Security Council, took action, including establishing criminal tribunals in the Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, East Timor and Cambodia and referring the situation in the Darfur, Sudan to the International Criminal Court.

It is time for governments around the world to live up to their legal commitments and respond to the situation as what it is -- a criminal government that must be held accountable under international law. The need for action has become particularly urgent as the SPDC attempts to solidify its rule in 2010 with a sham election based on an illegitimate and illegal constitution. The Security Council should exercise its mandate decisively by recognizing the situation in Burma as a threat to international peace and security and referring the situation to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for a real investigation of what is happening inside Burma.

The discussion has begun to change. As of this posting, 69 Members of Parliament in the UK have called for a Commission of Inquiry into "allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma". The Women's League of Burma has led the call for justice through a referral to the International Criminal Court for the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon against ethic nationalities; the title of their recent statement says it all, "Enough is Enough." The International Burmese Monks Organization has appealed to the European Union to push for a Security Council referral as well. The US Campaign for Burma has called for a Security Council Commission of Inquiry into crimes. The Burma Lawyers' Council and my own organization, the Global Justice Center, have repeatedly called for accountability for the regime.

Today sovereignty can no longer be a free pass to arbitrarily arrest, torture, rape and kill one's own people. The military junta in Burma should be no exception.