UK Government Report: Human Rights Abuses Continue In Burma
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office published its Human Rights and Democracy report for 2011 on July 10th. The report highlights on-going serious human rights abuses in Burma, despite some welcome reforms, stating in its introduction: “2011 was marked by some unexpected and positive political developments in Burma, although significant long-term challenges remained.”
The report states that: “The situation in some ethnic minority areas worsened”, and goes on to document on-going human rights abuses which could be classified as possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, including:
• “In March, the Burmese Army moved into areas of Shan State held by ethnic armed forces. We received reports that seven villages were razed to the ground, and civilians indiscriminately targeted. An estimated 30,000 people fled their homes.”
• “In June, conflict broke out in Kachin State, bringing a 17-year ceasefire to an end. Human rights abuses targeting civilians were reported, including torture, rape and unverified reports of murder. There were allegations that the Kachin Independence Army was also using forced portering and child soldiers.”
• “We have continued to receive reports of gender-based violence by the military in conflict areas; the Burmese government has done little to investigate these cases.”
• “The use of child soldiers continued to be a problem in the Burmese military and some armed ethnic groups.”
Despite this, and Foreign Secretary William Hague’s recent statement that; “Those who commit international crimes will be held accountable”, there is only one passing reference to work on accountability for human rights abuses.
In addition, Burma’s President, Thein Sein, has been invited to the UK where he will be given red carpet treatment.
In the past year the British government has tended to focus more on the positive developments in Burma, and talked less about human rights abuses. The British government agreed to the suspension of European Union sanctions despite none of the benchmarks that were set being met. These included the unconditional release of all political prisoners, the end of conflict in ethnic states, and allowing humanitarian assistance to be delivered freely in ethnic states. The British government has even gone further in normalising relations with Burma than other countries which traditionally took a softer line against the dictatorship, with the British Prime Minister visiting Burma, and the invitation of Burma’s President to the UK.
The report does not document all the on-going human rights abuses that it should have. Of especial concern, given that the report was released on the same day the Foreign Secretary announced a major new initiative on rape and sexual violence in conflict, is the lack of specific focus on the big increase in the use of rape and sexual violence by the Burmese Army against ethnic minority women, especially in Shan and Kachin States.
However, Burma Campaign UK welcomes the report for highlighting the fact that severe human rights abuses continue to take place, and for its acknowledgment that minority rights “remained perhaps Burma’s greatest challenge, requiring…constitutional amendments”. Most governments have tended to ignore and fail to understand the importance of an inclusive process of national reconciliation, despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s repeated statements on this.
“Burma Campaign UK welcomes this report and the fact that the British government has become the first to acknowledge that in some ethnic areas the situation has got worse, not better, under Thein Sein’s government”, said Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK. “The international community, including the British government, has been too quick to move towards normalising relations with Burma, despite very serious human rights abuses continuing. This report shines a welcome spotlight on the continuing human rights abuses committed under Thein Sein’s rule.”
The 2011 Human Rights and Democracy Report can be viewed at: http://fcohrdreport.readandcomment.com/human-rights-in-countries-of-concern/burma/