December 7, 2012

Lord Alton of Liverpool has asked the British government whether it might be possible to arrest Thein Sein for human rights abuses if he goes ahead with a planned visit to the UK early next year.

The UK applies universal jurisdiction for the use of torture, but only under certain limited conditions.

Baroness Warsi, responding on behalf of the government, stated that the UK has to act in accordance with certain privileges under international law. This includes head of state immunity.

Human rights abuses which could be classified as war crimes and crimes against humanity have increased since Thein Sein became President, largely as a result of the intense conflict in Kachin State, where the Burmese Army has been deliberately targeting civilians, shooting people on sight, torturing, committing rape and gang-rape, abduction, mortar bombing and looting villages, seizing land, using forced labour and other abuses.

“Torture is still being used by the Burmese Army and by prison and security officers, and as head of state Thein Sein has ultimate command responsibility for what is taking place,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “Burma still has one of the worst human rights records in the world, and in recent weeks there has been an increase in arrests of peaceful protestors. Thein Sein should not be given red-carpet treatment in the UK. There are a great many people in Burma who would welcome his being arrested and held accountable for human rights abuses that have happened in the 25 years since he became one of the top military rulers in Burma.”
The written question and answer can be viewed here, transcript follows:

Questions Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have made any assessment of the application of universal jurisdiction relating to the use of torture

4 Dec 2012 : Column WA123

in relation to the proposed visits to the United Kingdom by President Thein Sein and other officials from Burma.[HL3479]

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): The proposed visit of President Thein Sein will be at the invitation of the Government for the purpose of carrying out official government to government business. In particular, it would be an opportunity to engage the president on our issues of concern, to share our own knowledge and experience and support the reforms taking place in Burma.

The conditions for the exercise of universal jurisdiction for torture by the UK courts are set out in Sections 134 and 135 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and further provision is made in respect of arrest warrants in Section 153 of the Police and Social Responsibility Act 2011. The UK is obliged under international law to accord relevant privileges and immunities to certain categories of official visitors, and this is reflected in UK law.


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