March 12, 2015

Burma Campaign UK today welcomed a new report by the British government, in which they finally admit that there are ‘a number of worrying setbacks’ in Burma’s reforms process, which are ‘of significant concern.’

The admission came in the annual human rights report by the British Foreign Office, following a months’ long campaign by Burma Campaign UK to persuade the British government to admit there are serious problems with Burma’s reforms.

‎As one of the main backers of President Thein Sein and his reform process, the British government has been reluctant to admit to serious problems with the reform process. Following statements last year by the UN Special Rapporteur, President Obama, and Aung San Suu Kyi, that the reform process was backsliding, backtracking and stalled, the British government conspicuously avoided making similar statements, even when directly questioned in the British Parliament.

‎In response, Burma Campaign UK launched a campaign calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to stop being an ostrich on Burma, sticking his head in the sand trying to pretend problems didn’t exist.

‎From 2013 to early 2015, Burma Campaign UK also ran a ‘rose-tinted glasses’ campaign warning that the British government was taking too rosy a view of the reforms in Burma, and basing policy on promises of reform, not reality on the ground.

Recent human rights reports‎ on Burma from the British government have tended to downplay or ignore many problems, whilst talking up positives, so the admission of setbacks by the British government is significant.

While the new report published today still follows this approach to a large degree, it is much more frank about some of the problems than recent reports have been, and for the first time the British government admits ‘a number of worrying setbacks’ and ‘setbacks, which were of significant concern.’  The report stated: ‘2014 saw increasing numbers of political prisoners, conflict in Kachin and Shan, and repression of the media. The early part of the year saw a sharp increase in inter-communal violence in Rakhine State, and the Rohingya community continues to be subject to discriminatory policies and vulnerable to further violence.’

“It is good to see the British government finally admit that there are serious setbacks with Burma’s reform process,” said Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK. ‎”Despite admitting there are setbacks, they have not announced any change of approach or policy. They are literally doing business as usual. Admitting there is a problem is an essential first step to dealing with a problem, now they need to change their policy, starting with reviewing the assistance they are giving to the authoritarian, military-backed Burmese government.”

More information

The full Burma section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2014 Human Rights and Democracy Report is available here.

Our briefing paper on how previous Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights and Democracy Reports have talked up positives whilst ignoring or downplaying negatives is available here.

Our campaign action calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to stop being an ostrich on Burma is available here.


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