Following a debate on human rights in Burma in the British Parliament yesterday evening, Burma Campaign UK today accused the British government of being in denial about the reality of the reform process in Burma. Burma Campaign UK called on the British government to formally accept that the reform process in Burma has stalled, that the process is not a transition to democracy, and to change policy accordingly.
David Burrowes MP secured the debate in the British Parliament following his recent visit to Burma. He highlighted numerous human rights abuses still taking place in Burma, many of which violate international law. He described how he met many ethnic and civil society representatives: “all of whom, without exception, told me that reforms had stalled.”
Other MPs who took part in the debate also highlighted the many serious ongoing human rights violations in Burma and the failure of the reform process.
However, when Hugo Swire MP responded on behalf of the Foreign Office, he still avoided directly stating that the British government agreed reforms have stalled. Instead he stated that Aung San Suu Kyi had said reforms have stalled in some areas. In fact, Aung San Suu Kyi has not only said reforms have stalled in some areas. She said two weeks ago that:
“If they really study the situation in this country they would know that this reform process started stalling early last year…In fact, I would like to challenge those who talk so much about the reform process, what significant reform steps have been taken within the last 24 months?”
Hugo Swire appeared so determined to counter accusations that human rights are no longer the British government’s top priority in Burma that when he responded to the MPs who had raised various human rights abuses, he described how he had raised most of these issues with the Burmese government. He appeared not to realise that he was listing all the ways that the British government is failing to influence the government of Burma to improve human rights. On almost all the issues he said he had raised with the Burmese government, the situation had either not improved, or got worse.
Aung San Suu Kyi, President Obama and the United Nations have all said that Burma’s reform process is stalled, backsliding, or backtracking. The British government has still not publicly and unambiguously accepted this. It appears that having so enthusiastically endorsed the reform process, being one of the main countries which, as Aung San Suu Kyi described, ‘talk so much about the reform process’, they are now unwilling to accept the reality that reforms are not what they claimed there were.
The Minister also repeated his false claim that there is either a choice of endorsing the reform process or doing nothing. There are many other policy choices which are available, including the application of international law.
Hugo Swire, who has previously described human rights violations in Burma including ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya as ‘bumps in the road’, is still desperately clinging to the claim that Burma is on some kind of road to democracy. There is no evidence to support this beyond the claims of former generals who have repeatedly lied to the international community and who have repeatedly broken their promises.
“The British government must accept that Burma’s reform process isn’t moving towards democracy, and that human rights abuses are increasing,” said Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK. “It is now time for the British government to return to a policy of prioritising and promoting human rights. They must resume their leadership role of mobilising international pressure to promote genuine human rights and democracy in Burma.”
Notes to editors: Full transcript of the debate is available here.
Burma Campaign UK is campaigning for the British government to accept that Burma’s reform process has stalled and to change its policy on Burma: http://action.burmacampaign.org.uk/david-cameron-stop-being-ostrich-burma