British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Burma this week is the highest-level visit by a Western leader to the strife-torn country since United States secretary-of-state Hillary Clinton briefly visited in November last year.
But despite reforms that have so far taken place, including allowing the leading opposition party, the NLD, to compete in April’s by-elections, human rights abuses are endemic under the military-backed regime.
Burma Campaign UK, a human rights advocacy group, has accused Thein Sein’s authoritarian government of overseeing an increase in atrocities.
“Human rights abuses have increased since President Thein Sein came to power last year. Hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars and The International Committee of the Red Cross is still being denied access to prisons to assess conditions and number of prisoners by Thein Sein’s government.” The group said in a media statement.
The Burma Army is prosecuting a war in Kachin State and Shan State, northern Burma, which has led to an additional 80,000 internal refugees in Burma, raising the total to 150,000. Burma’s military is accused of severe abuses in ethnic states.
In March, the UN Special Rapporteur listed a series of human rights abuses, all committed in Burma in recent months, including “attacks against the civilian population, extrajudicial killings, internal displacement, the use of human shields and forced labour, confiscation and destruction of property, and conflict-related sexual violence.”
“The changes in Burma appear impressive in the context of how bad things were before, but there is still a very long way to go to address continuing human rights abuses and start a transition to democracy,” said Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK.
Burma Campaign UK also expressed disappointment that a business delegation is with the Prime Minister on his trip to Burma, even though they will be there on tourist visas.
“The presence of these businesspeople will open them up to criticism that trade interests, not human rights, are now driving policy on Burma.”
The Burma Campaign UK statement comes as the international community begins easing sanctions on the politically opaque regime after promising signs of reform including the election of prominent the National League for Democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Critics of Burma’s authoritarian government says the lifting of sanctions should not be done until Burma’s repressive laws been repealed and there have been changes made to the constitution – it guarantees a powerful military presence at all levels of government.