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A brave man

February 28, 2021

Recognise this man? You should. His name is Kyaw Moe Tun and a couple of days ago he did the bravest thing I’ve seen a politician or a diplomat do in longer than I can remember.

On Friday Mr Tun, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, astonished everyone present by making a plea to the world community to do everything in its power to reinstate civilian rule in his country.

He concluded his full 12-minute appeal with the three fingered salute, adopted from The Hunger Games first by pro-democracy activists in Thailand and now by anti-coup protesters in Myanmar.

It was a jaw dropping act of courage by a man maintaining his commitment to the democratically-elected government of his country.

No surprise the military junta in Myanmar immediately fired him. Bit of a surprise to the military coup leaders to be told by the UN that Mr Tun is the representative of the only recognised government of Myanmar (ie not them) and so for now he remains in his office in New York. I don’t imagine he will be going home any time soon.

What did he get for his bravery? As big a round of applause as the half empty chamber could provide, a commitment from the newly appointed US ambassador to the UN that the coup leaders would not be recognised by the United States (nor should it be by any other country) and not much else.

Even if the United Nations had the ability to actually do anything to oust the generals, any proposed action would be kyboshed by China, a member of the permanent five which has veto power over everything. (The Chinese government has already stated that what’s going on in Myanmar is an “internal matter”, which is also what they claim the clampdown in Hong Kong and the cultural genocide of Tibetans and Uighurs to be.)

The to-the-victor-goes-the-spoils decision when the United Nations was being established in 1945 to grant permanent security council status (and veto power) to China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States must have seemed like a good idea (to the victors of World War Two) at the time, but has, over and over again, in the past 75 years proven to be a recipe for paralysis. And of course any attempt to improve the functioning of the UN would have to be approved by all five permanent members. Catch-22, anyone?

Mr Tun’s plea did not fall on deaf ears. He was most definitely heard. The almost certain lack of meaningful response will shame the UN (and most of its member governments) once again.  

That doesn’t detract from his bravery. For that I salute him. Yes, with three fingers.

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PS For the record, I am not nominating Kyaw Moe Tun for sainthood. For all I know, as the representative of her government, like Aung San Suu Kyi, the once-sanctified democratically-elected leader of Myanmar, Mr Tun has quite possibly denied the military’s attempted genocide of the Rohingya people.

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