April 12, 2012

On the eve of Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Burma, Burma Campaign UK called on him to highlight the serious on-going human rights abuses in the country, and the lack of legal democratic reform.

Despite reforms that have taken place, and allowing the NLD to compete in recent by-elections, human rights abuses have increased since President Thein Sein came to power last year.

On-going human rights abuses which the Prime Minister should raise with President Thein Sein include:
•        Hundreds of political prisoners still in jail, kept in appalling conditions. The International Committee of the Red Cross is still being denied access to prisons to assess conditions and number of prisoners.
•        An increase in Burmese Army attacks against ethnic minority civilians following the Burmese Army breaking ceasefires in Shan and Kachin States. Human rights abuses committed by the Burmese Army in recent months include: Rape, extrajudicial killings, abductions, torture, deliberate targeting of civilians with mortar and machine gun fire, looting, beatings, forced labour and use of child soldiers.
•        The number of people forced to flee their homes who are now internal refugees has risen from around 70,000 in 2010 to more than 150,000 in 2011.
•        The continued blocking of humanitarian aid to internal refugees and other people in ethnic states.
•        Continuing severe repression of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma.

Not one repressive law has been repealed in Burma, and there has been no change to the constitution, which guarantees military control at every level of government in Burma.

“The changes in Burma appear impressive in the context of how bad things were before, but there is still a very long way to go to address continuing human rights abuses and start a transition to democracy,” said Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK, and a refugee from Burma who twice spoke from the main stage at the Conservative Party conference. “We are yet to see the government or military give up any powers. Some smaller sanctions could now be relaxed to acknowledge and encourage further reform, but the Prime Minister must make it clear deeper reform is needed before all sanctions will be lifted.”

Burma Campaign UK also expressed disappointment that a business delegation is accompanying the Prime Minister on his trip to Burma, even though they will be there on tourist visas. This appears to contradict the government’s own policy of discouraging trade and investment in Burma. In opposition and in government, Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague have shown a strong personal commitment to supporting Burma’s democracy movement. The presence of these businesspeople will open them up to criticism that trade interests, not human rights, are now driving policy on Burma.

In March the UN Special Rapporteur listed a series of human rights abuses, all committed in Burma in recent months, which could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. They include: ‘…grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including attacks against the civilian population, extrajudicial killings, internal displacement, the use of human shields and forced labour, confiscation and destruction of property, and conflict-related sexual violence…’


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