Today Burma’s President, former General Thein Sein, is making his first visit to London. He will be meeting Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague.
To coincide with the visit, Burma Campaign UK is releasing a new briefing paper on Thein Sein. The briefing highlights his decades-long involvement in human rights abuses in Burma.
Thein Sein spent 40 years as a soldier in one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world. He spent 14 years on the ruling council of the dictatorship, including serving as Prime Minister during the crushing of the Monk-led uprising in 2007. He also spent many years based in ethnic states, where the Burmese Army committed horrific human rights abuses against the civilian population, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. In 1998 Thein Sein was personally named by the United Nations for ordering his soldiers to commit human rights abuses.
While he was a commander in Shan State, at least 45 women were raped by soldiers under his command, and there were numerous reports of his soldiers being involved in the drug trade. Soldiers under the command of Thein Sein were also reported to be involved in trafficking methamphetamines and opium. Thein Sein called local drug lords ‘real friends’.
“The British government hails Thein Sein as a reformer but he has a lot of blood on his hands,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “Thein Sein’s past helps explain why so many human rights abuses are still going on today, and the limited nature of the reforms so far.”
Burma Campaign UK last week published a detailed briefing on human rights abuses which continue in Burma today, available here.
The British government has performed a dramatic U-turn on Burma policy in the past 18 months, casting aside a policy of prioritising human rights, lifting almost all forms of pressure, and instead endorsing President Thein Sein. Trade and investment are prioritised instead, with human rights relegated to talking points lower down the agenda. The British government is prepared to go so far in appeasing the government of Burma that it may even drop support for the annual UN General Assembly resolution on human rights in Burma later this year.
Hague’s own words that Thein Sein should be judged on actions not words are long forgotten, but close scrutiny of Thein Sein’s record, both past and present, casts doubt on the wisdom of the British government to stake everything on the hope that Thein Sein will keep his promises.
“Cameron has gone from hug a hoodie to hug a general,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “The British government’s rose-tinted policy on Burma undermines efforts to improve human rights. If Thein Sein is a genuine reformer, why is he still throwing democracy activists into jail, blocking aid to ethnic minorities, and allowing ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya? Thein Sein is visiting the wrong Hague. He should be on his way to the international criminal court in the Hague, not visiting Foreign Secretary William Hague.”