The British Government has been criticized by a prominent human rights advocacy group after it’s decision to fund military training for the Burma Army, who have been accused of ongoing human rights violations.
In a report titled ‘Training War Criminals? – British Training of the Burmese Army’, Burma Campaign UK said the decision to spend at least £87,850 (approximately 4.7 million Thai baht) on military training for the Burma Army was deeply flawed, as there were no set preconditions on improving human rights and supporting democratic reform.
“If the British government were serious about reforming the Burmese military and ending their human rights abuses, they could have used this training to elicit practical action and commitments to reforms,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK.
Mr Farmaner claims that the British government is putting UK business interests before human rights.
“Instead they are giving unconditional training in a move which appears be part of a general British government policy of moving as close as possible to the government of Burma in order to secure current and future trade and investment opportunities.”
The British Government’s training plan for Burma’s military coincides with a report released by the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) that documents cases of sexual violence perpetrated by Government military units since 2010, including 28 that resulted in death.
Burma Campaign UK questioned why the training would be taking place despite ongoing reports of serious human rights abuses, especially as conflicts continue in Kachin and Northern Shan States.
“Crimes committed by the Burmese Army since the reform process began include rape and gang rape of ethnic women, including children, deliberate targeting of civilians, arbitrary execution, arbitrary detention, torture, mutilations, looting, bombing civilian areas, blocking humanitarian assistance, destruction of property, and
extortion. Many of these abuses could be classified as war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Burma Campaign UK said in a media statement.
“This appears to contravene the declaration on ending sexual violence in conflict which the British government has spearheaded,” the group said.
Burma Campaign UK maintains that the British Government has made conflicting claims about the main focus of its training course; claiming the training is about human rights, making the military more professional and improving governance. Burma Campaign UK claims that the British Government had already admitted that they could not effectively monitor [Burma Army] soldiers after they have been through the course, and would therefore have no way of assessing the effectiveness of the training.
Ethnic Groups Not Consulted
Conflict affected ethnic communities were not consulted about whether the training should take place, according to Burma Campaign UK.
“The British government should listen to the 133 ethnic civil society organisations who have written to them asking for key conditions to be met before training and engagement begins.” Mr Farmaner said.
“This includes assisting in training an independent military police force that investigates and prosecutes soldiers who commit abuses, and their political and military masters who order abuses. Justice and accountability are the most powerful tools to help end abuses by the Burmese Army.” Mr Farmaner said.
The Burma Army officially does not admit that it commits human rights abuses. The first round of training begins later this month.