September 19, 2016

Statement by members and observers of the European Burma Network

We are concerned by information we have received that the European Union has decided not to go ahead with a resolution on human rights in Burma at the current session of the UN General Assembly. Only one of the 17 different calls for action to improve human rights made in last year’s resolution has been met.

A decision not to go ahead with the resolution will undermine efforts to improve human rights in Burma and be interpreted by the military as a license to continue human rights violations against civilians in ethnic states and their blocking of constitutional reform to make Burma more democratic. The European Union is putting trade and geo-political interests ahead of human rights in Burma.

Although Burma now has a civilian-led government, the human rights situation in the country remains very grave. While the NLD-led government will clearly need time to address some human rights issues, there are a wide range of human rights problems where the government has not taken action and not made any commitments to take action. In addition, many of the human rights violations in the country are committed by the military, which is not under the control of the government. A new UNGA resolution would need to make recommendations for action both to the government and to the military.

The 2015 UNGA resolution on Burma contained 17 paragraphs with recommendations to the government of Burma and the military for improvements in human rights. The only one which has been met related to a smooth transition to a new government following elections. Outstanding areas where action has not been taken by the government and/or military include releasing all political prisoners, bringing all national institutions, including the military, under democratic civilian control, ending arbitrary arrest and detention, ending forced displacement, ending rape and other forms of sexual violence, ending violations of international humanitarian law, establishing a country office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, implementing agreements to end the use of child soldiers, addressing trafficking, ensuring Rohingya have access to full citizenship, freedom of movement, and civil and political rights, and investigating human rights violations against Rohingya to ensure accountability.

It makes no sense for the European Union to discontinue the UNGA resolution on Burma when 94% of the demands made in the last resolution have not been met.

In June this year the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report, ‘Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar’, which stated that war crimes and crimes against humanity were taking place in Burma. It is the first time the United Nations has issued such a strong report on how the situation of human rights in Burma violates international law.

On the situation of the Rohingya it stated:

“The situation described above reflects a pattern of gross human rights violations that affect fundamental civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Rohingya. Widespread discriminatory policies and/or practices targeting them on the basis of their ethnic and/or religious identity have led to an acute deprivation of fundamental rights. Many of the acts described would suggest a widespread or systematic attack against the Rohingya, in turn suggesting the possible commission of crimes against humanity, if established by a court of law.”

On the situation in ethnic states it stated:

“The information received by OHCHR suggests that minority groups have suffered a wide range of human rights violations and abuses. Moreover, in the context of armed conflicts, reports over many decades have documented violations of international humanitarian law allegedly committed by the military and armed groups. If established in a court of law, some of these violations could amount to war crimes.”

The situation of the Rohingya is one of the most serious unaddressed human rights problems faced by Burma. Although the government of Burma has now established a Commission led by Kofi Annan, its mandate is to make recommendations only. The government of Burma has made no commitment to accept or implement recommendations that are made. The NLD-led government has committed to implementing the 1982 Citizenship Law, which UNGA General Assembly Resolutions on Burma have repeatedly expressed concern about.

According to the latest figures from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma, more than 120 political prisoners remain behind bars. This includes Lahpai Gam. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled that his detention is arbitrary and illegal.

The European Union should base decisions on whether to go ahead with the UNGA resolution on Burma based on whether progress has been made on improving human rights problems highlighted in resolutions. By this benchmark, there is clearly a very long way to go. The European Union cannot credibly argue that discontinuing the resolution will help improve human rights in Burma. The decision not to go ahead should be reconsidered.

Actions Birmanie (Belgium)

Association Suisse-Birmanie

Burma Action Ireland

Burma Campaign UK

Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Info Birmanie (France)

Swedish Burma Committee

US Campaign for Burma


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