FIDH - International Federation
for Human Rights
Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)
Burma: Sustained EU
engagement at UN critical to support human rights reforms
Open letter to the EU and its member states ahead of
the COHOM meeting 2-3 September 2014
1 September 2014
Amnesty International, FIDH
(the International Federation for Human Rights), and its member
organization, the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)
today call on the European Union (EU) and its member states
to ensure continued international engagement on the human rights
situation in Burma by again introducing a resolution on the
country at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)
in October 2014. A failure to retain a robust UNGA resolution
on Burma would endanger progress on human rights, which has
increasingly come under threat this year.
For the past 23 years, the UNGA resolution on the human rights
situation in Burma has been a critical force demonstrating the
international community's support for human rights in Burma.
The EU has historically played a key role in these discussions,
sponsoring the resolution which has included important recommendations
concerning the country’s human rights challenges.
Amnesty International, FIDH, and ALTSEAN-Burma recognize the
EU’s potential to influence progress on human rights in
Burma. The recently launched EU-Burma Human Rights Dialogue
offers an important opportunity for engagement on human rights,
as has the adoption of public positions by European institutionsand
representatives on a number of key concerns. However, the human
rights situation in Burma remains serious. Burma is failing
to make progress in several important areas and has slid back
worryingly in others, just over a year before the country is
due to hold general elections. These concerns demonstrate the
need for sustained EU engagement at the multilateral level,
including through support for a UNGA resolution.
Freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly remain
severely restricted in Burma. President Thein Sein failed to
keep his promise to release all prisoners of conscience by the
end of 2013. So far in 2014, scores of human rights defenders,
political activists and farmers have been arrested or imprisoned
simply for the peaceful exercise of their human rights; at least
70 political prisoners – including prisoners of conscience
– remain behind bars. Media reforms have also been undermined
by the arrest and imprisonment of journalists.
The situation in Burma’s ethnic minority areas has also
deteriorated in 2014. Violations of international humanitarian
and human rights law continue in Kachin and Northern Shan states.
Unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary
detentions, rape and other crimes of sexual violence and forced
labour – in particular by the Burma security forces –
continue to be reported. However, impunity persists for such
violations, with perpetrators rarely, if ever, brought to justice.
The situation of the Rohingya – described by the UNGA
as of “serious concern” in 2013 – has continued
to deteriorate in 2014. International organizations have been
prevented from providing essential humanitarian aid, including
life-saving medical assistance, to thousands of displaced Rohingya.
At least 137,000 people, mostly Rohingya, remain displaced following
widespread anti-Muslim violence in 2012. The authorities have
also failed to take effective steps to protect Rohingya from
attacks, and to conduct independent, credible investigations
into instances of violence against them. The January 2014 reported
killings of 48 Rohingya in Du Chee Yar Tan village, Maungdaw
township in Rakhine state and the subsequent failure of the
Burma authorities to adequately investigate and bring those
responsible to justice is a deeply disturbing example. Furthermore,
discriminatory laws and policies remain in effect, depriving
the Rohingya of many of their human rights.
We note that many of these concerns were raised with the Burma
authorities in the most recent UNGA resolution in December 2013.
However, the Burma authorities have failed to fully implement
any of the recommendations included in the resolution. In particular,
the failure to sign an agreement for the establishment and operationalization
in Burma of an office of the UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights with a comprehensive mandate to protect and promote human
rights – despite repeated promises by the Government of
Burma – further underscores the need for sustained international
engagement through the UNGA.
Given the ongoing serious human rights situation in Burma, the
EU’s continued engagement, including through the UNGA,
remains crucial. Only when there has been genuine and sustained
progress on human rights, based on concrete and measurable benchmarks
(such as those set by the EU Council Conclusions on Burma in
April 2013), should the EU and its member states consider discontinuing
the UNGA resolution. Until such time, it is imperative for the
EU to continue being a leader in the international community
and reiterate its calls for genuine human rights improvements
in Burma through the UNGA resolution.
Amnesty International, FIDH, and ALTSEAN-Burma therefore strongly
urge the EU, as the main sponsor, to again introduce a resolution
on the human rights situation in Burma at the 69th session of
the UNGA. We urge the EU to ensure the resolution addresses
the many key human rights concerns that remain in Burma, including
the situation of ethnic minorities such as the Rohingya and
the Kachin, the ongoing persecution of human rights defenders
and activists, and the lack of accountability for human rights