Burma Campaign UK today welcomed the decision by the British government to end training of the Burmese military, and called on the government to now work for a UN mandated global arms embargo against the military in Burma.
Burma Campaign UK has been campaigning for the British government to end this training since it was first announced in 2013. Burma Campaign UK supporters have been emailing the foreign secretary calling for an end to the training. Two weeks ago 157 British MPs wrote to the Foreign Secretary calling for an end to the training. Campaign group AVAAZ has collected 1.5 million signatures opposing the training.
“It is incredible that is has taken three weeks of an ethnic cleansing campaign, thousands dead and nearly half a million displaced, before the British government decided to cancel this training,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “Ending this training should have been a no-brainer, not something to dither over for three weeks while ethnic cleansing happens in front of our eyes. The original decision to provide this training is an example of catastrophic misjudgement by the British government about the situation in Burma. A major rethink on policy is now needed and a return to putting human rights first.”
Since 25th August, more than 400,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in the face of a military offensive by the Burmese Army. Rohingya sources estimate 5,000 or more people have been killed, tens of thousands are internally displaced, and tens of thousands of homes destroyed. It appears that more than half the entire Rohingya population in Burma may have been forced from their homes in just three weeks. The indiscriminate scorched earth offensive against the civilian Rohingya population began hours after attacks on police stations by Rohingya militants, killing at least 11 government personnel. Thousands of ethnic Rakhine and people from other ethnic groups have also been displaced.
Last year, the British government spent £305,000 of British taxpayers’ money training the Burmese military. 67% of the money came from the overseas aid budget. The training had no clear goals, no evaluation, and no conditions on human rights were asked before it was provided. The Foreign Office has repeatedly claimed the training was about human rights, but in an answer to a parliamentary question earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence said there was no specific human rights component in the training.
“This is the first practical sanction against Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the military who has ordered this ethnic cleansing campaign,” said Mark Farmaner. “Now the British government must go further, working for a global UN mandated arms embargo. The European Union should impose a ban on European companies supplying any kind of equipment to the military, not just arms, and also ban investment and business relationships with military owned companies.”
Burma Campaign UK will now also campaign for Germany and Austria to end the training programmes they have offered to the military in Burma.
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson has stated in New York today:
“As of today, the Ministry of Defence are saying that there will be no more defence co-operation or training with the Burmese army until we are satisfied that this has been resolved. It is about recognising the seriousness of the situation. We want this situation resolved and until it is this co-operation will cease. We have condemned what has been happening right from the outset. There have been repeated statements from the Foreign Secretary and myself. This is a further recognition that we want this situation resolved. What is happening there simply can’t continue.”