January 14, 2014

The British government are spending £87,850 on military training for the Burmese Army without setting any preconditions on their improving human rights and supporting democratic reform.

Burma Campaign UK today publishes a new briefing paper, ‘Training War Criminals? – British Training of the Burmese Army’, examining the British government’s controversial military training to the Burmese Army.

The briefing paper is available here.

In 2013 the British government controversially announced that it would start providing training for the Burmese Army. This training began in January 2014, with the first round of training costing British taxpayers £87,850.  The training is taking place despite the Burmese Army still committing serious human rights abuses which violate international law. Crimes committed by the Burmese Army since the reform process began include rape and gang rape of ethnic women, including children, deliberate targeting of civilians, arbitrary execution, arbitrary detention, torture, mutilations, looting, bombing civilian areas, blocking humanitarian assistance, destruction of property, and extortion. Many of these abuses could be classified as war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The British government has made conflicting claims about the main focus of the course, alternately claiming the training is about human rights, governance or professionalisation. They have admitted they cannot monitor soldiers after they have been on the course, so have no way of assessing the effectiveness of the training.

It appears no conditions have been set before providing the training, even on the issue of ending the Burmese Army’s use of rape as a weapon of war. This appears to contravene the declaration on ending sexual violence in conflict which the British government has spearheaded. The Burmese Army does not even admit that it commits human rights abuses.

Conflict affected ethnic communities were not consulted about whether the training should take place.

“If the British government were serious about reforming the Burmese military and ending their human rights abuses, they could have used this training to elicit practical action and commitments to reforms,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “Instead they are giving unconditional training in a move which appears be part of a general British government policy of moving as close as possible to the government of Burma in order to secure current and future trade and investment opportunities.”

“The British government should listen to the 133 ethnic civil society organisations who have written to them asking for key conditions to be met before training and engagement begins. This includes assisting in training an independent military police force that investigates and prosecutes soldiers who commit abuses, and their political and military masters who order abuses. Justice and accountability are the most powerful tools to help end abuses by the Burmese Army.”

The briefing paper is available here.


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