As former General Thein Sein, President of Burma, prepares to visit the UK later this week, Burma Campaign UK today launches a campaign calling on Foreign Secretary William Hague to stop taking a rose-tinted view of the situation in Burma, arguing that it undermines progress on improving human rights. Burma Campaign UK supporters are being asked to send a pair of rose-tinted glasses to the Foreign Secretary.
“William Hague should return to a policy of prioritising human rights and judging the former generals by their actions, not their words,” said Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK. “With so many serious human rights abuses continuing, many people in Burma are questioning how genuine the current reform process is. In contrast the British government takes a rose-tinted view of the situation, no longer criticising the government for committing human rights abuses. They talk up the positives, but play down or don’t talk about many of the negatives.”
The British government has performed a dramatic U-turn in Burma policy since Thein Sein became President, reversing a decade’s long policy of prioritising human rights. The Foreign Office has organised several official visits to promote trade with Burma, but not one to promote human rights. At the British Embassy in Rangoon, responsibility for human rights has been downgraded to the third political officer.
There is no doubt that there have been dramatic changes in Burma in the past two years, and that there is opportunity for further change that must be encouraged. However, policy must be carefully calibrated taking into account the wide disparity between words and actions. Burma still has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Since Thein Sein became President, human rights abuses which violate international law have actually increased.
President Thein Sein’s visit to the UK is a big reward given the skin deep nature of most reforms. Rather than focussing on trade issues, the British government should be aiming to secure concrete agreement on key human rights issues, such as an international investigation into abuses against the Rohingya minority, co-operation on including Burma in the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, releasing all political prisoners, starting a genuine dialogue process to draft a federal democratic constitution, reducing military spending, and setting a timeline for repealing all repressive laws.
“It is time to start asking why, more than two years since reforms began, hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail, rape of ethnic women by Burmese army and security forces continues, and almost all repressive laws remain in place,” said Zoya Phan. “Human rights abuses are not legacies from the past. Last month more than seventy political activists were charged with offensives, many of them under a new so-called right to protest law Thein Sein brought in.”