October 12, 2011

Burma Campaign UK today welcomed a statement by the British government that they will not review or dilute Burma sanctions yet. The statement follows the disappointingly low number of political prisoners released in an amnesty last Wednesday.

During a short debate on Burma in the House of Lords on 13th October, Baroness Kinnock, Patron of Burma Campaign UK, asked government minister Lord Howell for an assurance that the UK would oppose the relaxation of European Union sanctions, due to ongoing human rights abuses.

Lord Howell responded: “I can give an assurance that we will not review or dilute the sanctions yet, and indeed it is the view of Aung San Suu Kyi and others that we should not do so.”  The European Union has a common foreign policy on Burma, known as a Council Decision. EU sanctions cannot be relaxed without the agreement of the UK.

There are between one and two thousand political prisoners in Burma. Many have been tortured, have been moved to remote prisons making it difficult for families to visit, are kept in squalid cells, and denied proper access to medical care.

Burma’s new President, Thein Sein, has made promises of reform in an attempt to get sanctions lifted and gain international legitimacy. There had been expectations that a significant number of political prisoners would be released, but in the event only around 220 were released, leaving most still in jail. So far there have been yet more promises, but these have not been translated into concrete change.

“The British government must ensure that no EU sanctions are relaxed until there is genuine reform in Burma,” said Glenys Kinnock. “The Burmese government is clearly trying to get sanctions lifted while making the minimum possible concessions. Sanctions are a crucial leverage for change in Burma, and must not be lifted in response to token actions.”

“We welcome the British government’s statement that sanctions will not be reviewed or diluted yet, and we will be watching closely to ensure the government keeps its word,” said Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK. “The British government also said it supported a UN Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity, but when the time came to persuade EU partners to include an Inquiry in the UN General Assembly resolution on Burma, they failed to deliver.”

For more information contact Zoya Phan on 020 7324 4710.

Transcript of the Lords Debate is available here.


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