The influential Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament has published a report today which calls on the British government to support the re-imposition of European Union sanctions on Burma in 12 months’ time if there is no improvement in the situation of the Rohingya, and if all political prisoners are not unconditionally released.
The report: ‘The FCO’s human rights work in 2013’ was published as part of the Committee’s inquiry into the human rights work of the British Foreign Office. It is available online here.
Burma Campaign UK, Women’s League of Burma, Kachin National Organisation and PEN International made submissions to the Committee about the human rights situation in Burma.
Describing the current human rights situation in Burma as ‘highly unsatisfactory’, the report highlighted concerns about the Rohingya, British government funding of Burma’s controversial census, and political prisoners.
The report made several references to the submission by Burma Campaign UK, including stating:
‘Burma Campaign UK said that the approach of the British Government was “based on a false assumption that Burma is currently in a period of transition away from dictatorship and towards democracy”. It said that the FCO’s 2013 Report did not present an “accurate reflection of the human rights situation in Burma”.’
Burma Campaign UK believes that European Union sanctions on Burma were lifted prematurely, without the EU’s own human rights benchmarks being met. The slowdown and then reversal of the reform process since sanctions were lifted is evidence that too much was given away too soon and the premature lifting of sanctions undermined, rather than reinforced, the reform process. However, now that EU economic and diplomatic sanctions have been lifted by the EU, re-imposition of sanctions would be very difficult. To be applied most effectively, sanctions should also be applied in co-ordination with other countries, and in support of diplomatic initiatives to promote genuine reforms. This is something the international community was never able to achieve when applying past sanctions on Burma.
At the current time, Burma Campaign UK would prefer that the application of international law be the main focus of future international diplomacy on Burma, rather than attempting to impose new economic sanctions. This process should start with the establishment on a UN Commission of Inquiry into violations of international law in Burma.
The report by the Committee also raised concerns about the general approach to human rights by the British Foreign Office, which are also applicable to Burma.
On trade and human rights the report criticised claims by the Foreign Office that trade and human rights go hand in hand, stating:
“A UK Government Minister said that human rights should not get in the way of developing trade ties with China, and another Minister shared a platform with the President of Uganda promoting investment into the country on the same day that the first prosecutions were coming into court under a draconian law criminalising same-sex relationships. These two examples demonstrate the inherent conflict that exists between promoting UK trade and investment and human rights at the same time. The Government should recognise that this conflict exists, rather than maintaining that human rights and business interests go hand in hand.”
Burma Campaign UK has been arguing that while the British Foreign Office also makes claims about human rights and trade going hand in hand in Burma, in fact they have dropped human rights as their priority and instead prioritise trade. There is a clear conflict of interest in challenging human rights abuses by the Burmese government at the same time as trying to win business contracts from that same government.
The report also called for the Foreign Office to set clear objectives and benchmarks to measure human rights outcomes, stating:
“We believe that human rights policy, like any other aspect of government policy, would benefit from the establishment of clearly defined objectives and benchmarks to measure outcomes.”
Burma Campaign UK has been calling for clear benchmarks and timelines on human rights improvement in Burma for many years.
“This report demonstrates how international patience with the government of Burma is now running out,” said Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK. “The Foreign Affairs Committee has taken a much stronger stance on human rights in Burma than the British government. There is a growing recognition of the many problems with Burma’s reform process and of the huge scale of ongoing human rights abuses.”
Notes to Editors:
The report is available online here.