Just days before Burma’s President is due to visit the UK, Burma Campaign UK today releases a new briefing paper summarising some of the main human rights abuses which continue in Burma today.
It is now more than two years since former General Thein Sein became President, yet 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. Burma Campaign UK is receiving increased numbers of reports of rape by the Burmese Army and security forces. Hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail, and almost all repressive laws remain in place.
There has undoubtedly been an increase in ‘civil liberties’ in cities such as Rangoon and Naypyidaw, but none of these are enshrined in law, and so can be reversed at any time. At the same time, in ethnic states, human rights abuses are being committed which are so serious they could be classified as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.
Of course no path to transition is easy, and reforms will take time, with obstacles along the way. But more than two years into the reform process, the sheer scale of continuing human rights abuses, how serious these abuses are, and the lack of any genuine political dialogue process, or new freedoms enshrined in law, should be sounding alarm bells.
Given these abuses, the briefing paper argues that the British government and rest of the international community should now be asking if this is a genuine reform process that is a transition to democracy, or is it, as many people in Burma have told Burma Campaign UK, a transition to something else? Is Burma simply moving away from being a pariah state and instead becoming a ‘normal’ dictatorship? Is the transition actually not towards democracy, but rather to be something more like China and/or Russia? Is Thein Sein only making minimal reforms seen as necessary to end sanctions and international pressure? Has the British government and the rest of the international community confused a process of modernisation with democratisation?
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.
“The British government is about to give Thein Sein red carpet treatment in the UK, but the reality is that after two years of his reforms, Burma still has one of the worst records on human rights in the world”, said Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK. “On-going human rights abuses should be dominating the agenda of Thein Sein’s trip to the UK, not trade. The British government’s softly-softly approach to Thein Sein simply isn’t delivering results.”