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Golden Land of Humanitarianism

May 9, 2008

Myanmar is advertised as a tourist paradise, a golden land of sights, people and ancient traditions. For the last fifteen years, the country has suffered with the curious effects of a seemingly suspicious and paranoid government.

America has faced hurricanes before and know the power that hurricanes hold. The people of Burma have been dealt a nasty blow with a cyclone with few resources to deal with the event. The construction of the local buildings was not up to the task of dealing with the onslaught and huge numbers of people have lost their lives. The nation faces an acute crisis that requires immediate attention. Doubtless, you have heard that millions face utter poverty and health crisis in the wake of the devastation.

In standard fashion and to their credit, the United Nations ramped up their humanitarian juggernaut to supply the needs of the hurting victims of the cyclone. The rulers of the country have refused to allow angels of mercy into the country to meet the immediate need. Instead, they took control of the cargo and stated in a belated manner that Myanmar would distribute the aid from the United Nations themselves.

The United Nations declared that all “the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated.” In reaction, the United Nations has announced that all further shipments are suspended until the matter is resolved.

In the words of the media, the U.N. “blasted” the military government, saying the government’s refusal to allow foreign aid workers to help victims was “unprecedented” in the history of humanitarian work. While what the U.N. says is true today, perhaps the United Nations has become a little proud in assuming that they can march in anywhere they please without a question because they intend to meet an overwhelming need.

The Myanmar military junta is documented as being suspicious and fearful of outsiders because they fear the risk of outside insurgency. They haven’t refused the material assistance, only the outside assistance that goes with it as of today. The problem seems to be that Myanmar is concerned that visas for the workers have not been fully processed or appropriately made. Whether this fact is true remains to be seen. If it is true, a little “hand-holding” may be in order.

You do have to ask what is wrong with a country that wants to exercise its’ own sovereignty and fully know who is in the country. On the other hand, if this country were a person that is suspicious, even paranoid of others, how would you help them?

How do you deal with a person that is a paranoid and perhaps, even schizophrenic? You try to gain their trust if you can, even though the process may seem to be an uphill battle. The extreme option is the straight-jacket. Which approach is more reasonable?

In this case, the U.N. is taking on the role of the doctor that wants to supply free aid. In America, at least, you can’t normally force the patient against his or her will, even if the aid is free. The idea is to work out a compromise so that the patient can be helped.

In the case of Myanmar, you have hundreds of thousands, if not millions that may need assistance. A true humanitarian would do everything possible to help, include negotiating U.N. agents to travel with the aid to be certain that it is distributed. The help is for people, not the military leaders. What is more, the Myanmar politicos can still be seen as supplying the aid while building faith in the government. After all, this seems to be the concern of the government. Political nations do not always put the immediate needs of their people first and often put political concerns first. This is not an untenable situation unless everyone playing the political game insists on having their way.

The U.N. is very familiar with using agents and small teams to help with highly inflammatory political situations. Whether right or wrong, being the good guy, even the humanitarian often requires extra diligence and commitment to work for humanitarian needs and human rights. The United Nations has to ask itself what is most important in helping the people of Burma with a paranoid military government. The real motives of the U.N. are on display to the world.

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