February 20, 2013

Members of the European Burma Network today called on Germany to come clean over whether it is working behind the scenes to have Burma downgraded as a priority for the United Nations Human Rights Council. The European Burma Network brings together advocacy organisations working for human rights and democracy in Burma.

Discussions have been taking place within the European Union on whether Burma should continue to be listed under Item 4; ‘Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention’, or changed to Item 10, ‘Technical assistance and capacity building.’ Germany is understood to be privately supporting moving Burma to Item 10.

This is despite the fact that the country still has one of the worst human rights records in the world, and that in the past two years human rights abuses of the kind that could be considered war crimes and crimes against humanity actually increased. Burma is not a democracy, it remains ruled by a military-backed government, and almost all repressive laws remain in place.

In his statement on 16th February 2013 at the end of his visit to Burma, the UN Special Rapporteur stated; “…there are significant human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed…” The Special Rapporteur also highlighted continuing use of torture in Burma’s jails.

The 2012 UN General Assembly Resolution on Burma stated: “Expresses concern about remaining human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, forced displacement, land confiscations, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as violations of international humanitarian law, and urges the Government of Myanmar to step up its efforts to put an end to such violations.”

Downgrading Burma from Item 4 to Item 10 would be a major diplomatic coup for the government of Burma.

Writing to German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the letter states: ‘Germany has a long track record within the European Union of opposing international pressure against the government of Burma to promote human rights and democracy. Germany consistently worked to either attempt to block increased pressure, or to push for relaxing pressure. Germany uses the confidentiality of internal European Union meetings and processes to hide its actions from the German and European public.’

‘It appears that your government is again using this tactic to avoid having to justify publicly your position on the issue of Burma at the Human Rights Council. We know from experience that you are likely to reject any accusation that your government is not concerned about human rights in Burma. Therefore, to avoid any misunderstanding, we request that you clarify publicly the position of your government on whether you believe that Burma should remain as an Item 4 on the UN Human Rights Council, and whether Germany supports maintaining the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur.’

The letter was sent from the following European Burma Network members:

Actions Birmanie (Belgium)
Association Suisse-Birmanie
Austrian Burma Center
Burma Aktion (Germany)
Azione Birmania (Italy)
Burma Action Ireland
Burma Campaign UK
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Info Birmanie (France)
Swedish Burma Committee

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