The Information Commissioner’s Office, which monitors adherence to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, has issued a decision notice that the Ministry of Defence breached the Freedom of Information Act by failing to disclose details of military training being given to the Burmese Army.
The decision by the Information Commissioner stated: “By failing to disclose this information within 20 working days of the request the Commissioner has concluded that the MOD breached section 10c of the FOIA.”
In September 2013 Burma Campaign UK requested copies of all documents and materials used in the ‘Managing Defence in the Wider Security Context’ course. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the information should have been provided within 20 working days. Instead it took almost ten months for the information to be released, and this release only took place after Burma Campaign UK lodged an appeal with the Ministry of Defence and made a complaint to the Information Commissioners office.
Burma Campaign UK made the request following the controversial decision by the British government to spend more than a hundred thousand pounds of British taxpayer’s money providing unconditional training to the Burmese Army, despite many ongoing human rights violations by the Burmese Army, including rape of ethnic women, which break international law. The British government gave inconsistent statements about the purpose of the training, and refused to disclose details of the training.
The Information Commissioner’s office also highlighted concerns about the length of time that it took for the Ministry of Defence to review the appeal by Burma Campaign UK regarding their initial refusal to disclose the information. The decision stated: “…the Commissioner has issued guidance in which he has stated that in his view internal reviews should take no longer than 20 working days to complete and even in exceptional circumstances the total time taken should not exceed 40 working days. In this case the complainant submitted a request for an internal review on 30 October 2013 but the MOD did not inform him of the final outcome of that review until 2 July 2014, some 169 working days later, and after the complainant had been forced to raise this matter with the Commissioner. The Commissioner expects the MOD to ensure that the internal reviews it handles in the future adhere to the timescales he has set out in his guidance.”
“The Ministry of Defence have been consistently and deliberately trying to obstruct Burma Campaign UK obtaining details of the training it has been giving to the Burmese Army, even breaking the law,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “We are pleased with this decision by the Information Commissioner. It should not have taken ten months to receive information that should have been given in 20 days. The decision to give unconditional training to the Burmese Army was ill thought through and premature, and the British government clearly don’t want scrutiny about this controversial policy.”
Note to Editors:
Burma Campaign UK is now in the process of reviewing information that has been released and will issue a further statement when this review is complete.