The human rights advocacy group, Burma Campaign UK, has called on David Cameron’s government to support a UN Commission of Inquiry into violations of international law in Burma, amid concerns that the country’s reform process under President U Thein Sein has stalled.
“Burma Campaign UK believes that European Union sanctions on Burma were lifted prematurely, without the EU’s own human rights benchmarks being met.” Burma Campaign UK said in a statement, which went on, “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.”
The statement came as Britain’s Foreign Affairs Committee, which is composed of members of both major parties, released its annual report on the human rights situation of the world’s nations, where it ranked Burma’s current situation as “highly unsatisfactory.”
The report, released on the 27th of November, concluded that the UK would be obligated to lobby for the re-imposition of EU sanctions if the situation did not improve.
“The UK will strongly advocate the re-imposition of sanctions by the EU if there is no progress over the next 12 months in improving the conditions of the Rohingya community, and in securing the unconditional release of all political prisoners. We also recommend that the UK Government closely monitors whether former political prisoners who wish to stand for elections in 2015 are able to do so,” the report stated.
Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK, said that the report showed that Burma’s government was running out of time to convince the international community of its reformist agenda.
“This report demonstrates how international patience with the government of Burma is now running out,” said Mrs. Roberts, “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.”
Burma Campaign UK said it was concerned that the British government was prioritising its growing trade relationship with resource-rich Burma while overlooking ongoing reports of human rights abuses.
The human rights advocacy groups said that Britain’s Foreign Office had “dropped” human rights as the priority of dealing with Burma. “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.”
Rather than simply re-imposing sanctions, a move that would be difficult following the blanket lifting of sanctions by the EU, and require coordination with other world nations, the British Government should push for a UN inquiry into human rights abuses, Burma Campaign UK said.
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 statement came as prominent opposition leader and pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi said that Burma’s reform process had stalled.
“This reform process started stalling early last year,” Ms Suu Kyi, who is head of the opposition National League of Democracy, said to the press on November 5th, “We do think there have been times when the United States government has been overly optimistic about the reform process.”