Friday, December 18, 2009

Where Impunity Reigns

Op-ed from New York Times, December 17, 2009, available at

By Benedict Rogers

The world needs to be reminded, again and again, that the military regime in Burma (Myanmar) continues to perpetrate every conceivable human rights violation.

Any Burmese showing any dissent is brutally suppressed, as the world witnessed two years ago when peaceful Buddhist monks demonstrated. Many monks were killed or have disappeared; several hundred remain in prison.

Beyond that, more than 2,000 political activists are in Burmese prisons today, subjected to torture, denial of medical treatment and ludicrous sentences.

Student leader Bo Min Yu Ko is serving a 104-year prison term; Shan ethnic leader Hkun Htun Oo has been imprisoned for 93 years; democracy activist Min Ko Naing for 65 years. The most famous human rights activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest for almost 14 years, and the term was extended for a further 18 months after a sham trial.

Many of these activists are in prisons thousands of miles from their families, and several are critically ill.

One category of victims of the military dictatorship that gets far less attention is Burma’s ethnic minorities.

In eastern Burma, the regime has been conducting a brutal military campaign against people of the Karen, Karenni and Shan groups. Since 1996, more than 3,300 villages have been destroyed and more than a million people internally displaced. A Karenni friend of mine has described it as “Pol Pot in slow motion.”

The catalogue of terror includes the widespread, systematic use of rape as a weapon, forced labor, the use of human minesweepers and the forcible conscription of child soldiers.

In northern and western Burma, the predominantly Christian Chin and Kachin peoples also face systematic religious persecution.

The Muslim Rohingyas, targeted for their faith and ethnicity, are denied citizenship, despite living in Burma for generations. Thousands have escaped to miserable conditions in Bangladesh.

I have travelled more than 30 times to Burma and its borderlands. I have met former child soldiers, women who have been gang-raped, and many people who have been forced to flee from their burned villages.

Earlier this year, I met a man who had lost both his legs following an attack on his village.

When the Burmese Army came, he fled, but after the troops had moved on, he returned to his smoldering village to see if he could salvage any remaining belongings. Where his house had stood, he found nothing except ashes — hidden in which was a landmine laid by the troops. He stepped on the mine, and lost both legs.

He was carried for an entire day for basic medical treatment and then, a few weeks later, he walked on crutches through the jungle for two days to escape. He fled to a camp for internally displaced people near the Thai border. Four months later, that camp was attacked and he had to flee again.

An eyewitness once told me that in a prison camp in Chin State, prisoners who tried to escape were repeatedly stabbed, forced into a tub of salt water, and then roasted over a fire. A woman in Karen State described to me how her husband was hung upside down from a tree, his eyes gouged out, and then drowned.

The United Nations has documented these atrocities. For years, General Assembly resolutions have condemned the abuses. Previous special rapporteurs have described the violations as “the result of policy at the highest level, entailing political and legal responsibility.” A recent General Assembly resolution urged the regime to “put an end to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

The U.N. has placed Burma on a monitoring list for genocide, the Genocide Risk Indices lists Burma as one of the two top “red alert” countries for genocide, along with Sudan, while the Minority Rights Group ranks Burma as one of the top five countries where ethnic minorities are under threat. Freedom House describes Burma as “the worst of the worst.”

This year, the United States reviewed its Burma policy and adopted a new approach of engagement while maintaining existing sanctions.

While this is the right approach in principle, and one advocated by the democracy movement, the danger is that the message has been misinterpreted, both by the regime and countries in the region.

Even though President Obama and senior U.S. officials have consistently emphasized that sanctions will not be lifted until there is substantial and irreversible progress in Burma, including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners and a meaningful dialogue between the regime, the democracy movement and the ethnic nationalities, the impression created in the region is that the U.S. is going soft.

This is unfortunate, as it has let Burma’s neighbors off the hook just when they were showing tentative signs of toughening up their approach. Trying to talk to the generals is right, but it needs to be accompanied by strong and unambiguous pressure.

In short, little action has been taken by the international community. Countries continue to sell the regime arms, impunity prevails.

The violations perpetrated by the regime amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Harvard Law School’s report, “Crimes in Burma,” commissioned by five of the world’s leading jurists, concludes that there is “a prima facie case of international criminal law violations occurring that demands U.N. Security Council action to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate these grave breaches.”

Last week marked the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If that is to mean anything in Burma, the time has come for the U.N. to impose a universal arms embargo on the regime, to invoke the much-flaunted “Responsibility to Protect” mechanism, and to investigate the regime’s crimes. The time to end the system of impunity in Burma is long overdue.

Benedict Rogers is East Asia Team Leader with the human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and author of several books on Burma, including “Than Shwe: Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Economic Advice Unlikely to Create Real Improvements for Burma's Poor

Joseph Stiglitz, advisor to President Obama and a professor at Columbia University, is scheduled to speak to representatives of the Burmese military regime, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), about poverty alleviation strategies during a visit later this month. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist famous for his research on economic development, undoubtedly has valuable tips for Burmese leaders. As a supporter of government assistance in the management of local economies, Stiglitz will likely offer members of the SPDC advice on how best to design policies that will encourage rural development. While Stiglitz surely has helpful information for SPDC leaders, any economic reforms that are not accompanied by genuine democratization will not generate lasting improvements for the people of Burma.

A visit from a world-renowned economist is a great opportunity for the leaders of Burma to take concrete steps to end poverty in the country. Advice is sorely needed to correct the failed policies of Burma, a nation that is ranked 138th on the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index and was recently ranked third from the bottom, above only Afghanistan and Somalia, in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

But Burma is not a poor country. When the military junta took power in 1962, Burma was one of the wealthiest nations in the region with ample natural resources. Increased militarization and political oppression led to the squandering of Burma’s wealth and deepening poverty across the country. As the regime increased the size of its military, it diverted funds from essential social sectors. Burma now spends about forty percent of its budget on its military, less than three percent on health care, and even less on education. Today, Burma’s military runs the nation’s economy, controlling major production sectors such as mining and logging. Economic improvements in such industries would only fuel the military and contribute to the regime’s neglect of social services. Increased wealth under a system that prioritizes militarization would generate few benefits for Burma’s rural poor.

Policy advice could be useful if the Burmese junta genuinely wanted to improve living conditions in the country. Observers remain skeptical that Stiglitz’s advice would lead to any sort of positive reforms given the indifference of the regime to the suffering of its people. Human rights organizations have been documenting the regime’s human rights abuses for decades. Groups on the Thai-Burma border have amassed information on the regime’s widespread commission of sexual violence, use of child soldiers, forced labor, forced relocation, unlawful killings, and disappearances, among other crimes. The regime seems bent on continuing its brutal attacks as next year’s elections approach. The SPDC’s continued criminality will surely hamper any intent the regime has to improve living conditions its citizens. Leaders who consistently violate international norms may not heed the advice of an economist who wants to elevate living conditions for the poorest in the country.

The regime’s human rights abuses, many of which constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, are perhaps the most serious symptom of the SPDC’s systematic mismanagement of the nation’s economy. They demonstrate that Burma’s economic woes are not accidental, but rather reflect the SPDC’s inability to soundly govern. The SPDC’s policies are rarely logical and do not demonstrate a modicum of concern for the people of Burma. The SPDC made headlines, for example, when it made a bizarre shift in capital cities in 2005 from urban Rangoon to Naypyidaw, a desolate place about two-hundred miles north of Rangoon.

Burma does not need a Nobel prize-winning economist to help them out of poverty – it needs a fundamental shift in governance. A reestablishment of the rule of law, an end to impunity, and genuine democratic change will do much more than a reinforcement of the status quo to generate economic growth in Burma.

This post was originally published on Human Rights Brief Blog at’s-poor.

Forced labor still widespread in western Burma

From Narinjara, available at

Forced Labor Widespread in Western Burma


Maungdaw: The Burmese military regime announced that there has been no forced labor in Burma since 2000, but the army has been frequently using villagers for forced labor along the western Burmese border, said one villager from the area.

"I was from Mee Dike Village where there is an army station. The soldiers at the station have been posted on a rotating system. Whenever the soldiers rotate through their posts at the station, the army authority always forces us to transport the army rations, ammunition, and firewood from one place to another. But we had not received any support or pay," he said.

Sometimes, the villagers had to transport army materials to outposts near the border, which is ten miles from their village.

"Our village is located in Nasaka Area No. 3. We always transport the army-owned materials to Walar Daung outpost, which is located near the border line under Nasaka Area No. 1. It is typical work for villagers whenever the army makes a rotation," he said.

In Mee Dike village, there are three ethnic nationalities - Rakhine, Khami, and Marama Gyi. Many villagers believe such work for the army is their duty and is common for Burmese citizens.

"Whenever the army summons villagers for transporting goods, we villagers go to the army station willingly to transport army goods anywhere, despite that the army does not pay any amount for wages, because we believe that it is a duty for Burmese citizens to help the army," he added.

Most villagers living along the western border are tribal villagers like Mro, Khami, and Dynet, who have no involvement in political affairs. The army officials take advantage of their sense of duty to use them for free labor

Burmese civil society groups demand genuine reconciliation before 2010 polls

From Narinjara, available at

Demanding authentic reconciliation before 2010 Burma polls


Nava Thakuria: On the International Human Rights Day (December 10), a number of civil society and advocacy groups from Burma and other parts of the world came together with consensus in demanding a genuine political reconciliation before the proposed general election the Southeast Asian country and to release all political prisoners including the pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

In a combined statement, over hundred organizations based in different parts of the globe urged for an inclusive dialogue with key pro-democracy stakeholders, ethnic nationalities and also a comprehensive review of the 2008 Constitution designed by the military rulers of Burma. It also asked for immediate cessation of systematic human rights abuses and criminal hostilities against ethnic groups, political activists, journalists and civil society workers in the country.

“We, the reaffirm the necessity for genuine political reconciliation before the 2010 elections and call on the international community to take immediate action to ensure viable democratic change occurs in Burma. The people of Burma are entitled to have a genuine choice and the international community has an obligation to ensure that the people get this choice,” said in the statement endorsed by influential organizations like Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma), Burma Partnership, Burma Campaign UK, Burma Centre Delhi, Burma Lawyers Council, Burmese American Democratic Alliance, Ethnic Nationalities Council, Shwe Gas Movement, Women League of Chin-land etc.

Even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 21) said that the ‘will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government’, the military regime named State Peace Development Council continues to use coercive measures to hold onto power.

“Activists, community leaders, journalists, and monks continue to be arrested and harassed for voicing independent thought. Villages continue to be subjected to crimes against humanity under the regime’s brutal policy of controlling ethnic communities. The regime continues to manipulate the political sphere in order to secure their victory in the 2010 elections – based on the 2008 Constitution that was crafted by the military regime in order to perpetuate impunity and prolong their hold on power,” the statement added.

The groups were in apprehension that ‘if the election is allowed to go ahead without these changes, it would only serve to institutionalize one-party rule, with military still holding the strings of power’.

Even in the unlikely event that the elections are free and fair, they will not bring any real change to Burma because the fundamentally flawed Constitution that allocates vast powers to military, lacks any checks and balances, allows for the ongoing discrimination and persecution of ethnic nationalities, gender discrimination, and lacks protection of human rights, the statement asserted.

The statement, which was also supported by Actions Birmanie – Brussels, All Burma Democratic Lusei Women Organization, Arakan League for Democracy (Exile - India), Arakan Liberation Party, ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples, Austrian Burma Center, Burma Aktion Germany, Burma Campaign Australia, Burmese Women's Union, Chin Students and Youth Federation, Chin Women Organization, Danish Burma Committee, Dictator Watch, All Burma Federation of Student Unions, Foundation for Media Alternatives (Philippines), International Federation for Human Rights, Karen Women’s Organization, Kuki Women Human Rights Organization, Naga National League for Democracy, People's Forum on Burma (Japan), Student Federation of Thailand etc concluded urging ‘the international community to be united in their support for the will of the people of Burma, and act with firm resolve not to allow this sham election to proceed until national reconciliation is realized’.

Meanwhile on the same day, ignoring the warning from the military junta, the National League for Democracy organized a meeting at their main Rangoon office to celebrate the International Human Rights Day on December 10, stated in a release from the office of Burma Partnership Secretariat.

Similarly, in Rangoon, the All Burma Monks’ Alliance, 88 Generation Students, and All Burma Federation of Student Union released a statement urging the international community not to recognize the 2010 elections unless there has been sustainable political dialogue with democratic opposition and ethnic nationalities, and national reconciliation beforehand.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Parliamentarians from around the world call on the UN to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma

MPs from 29 countries signed a letter to the United Nations calling for an investigation into international crimes in Burma and the establishment of a global arms embargo. A diverse array of officials from countries including Cambodia, the United States, Brazil, and India signed the letter.

For more information, see the following article from the Democratic Voice of Burma, also available at

Global MPs call for UN action on Burma

Dec 10, 2009 (DVB)–More than 440 Members of Parliament around the world today marked International Human Rights Day with a call for the UN to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma.

“Such action is long overdue,” said a letter signed by 442 MPs from 29 countries, which was sent today to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon. It also urged a global arms embargo against the Burmese junta. The letter cited statistics released by the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) that allege the Burmese army has destroyed more than 3,500 ethnic minority villages in eastern Burma since 1996, and forced 75,000 people out of their homes in 2008 alone. Both TBBC and a panel of leading international jurists, who released the Crimes in Burma report in May, have said the situation in eastern Burma is comparable to Darfur. “There is an urgent need for the Security Council to address this horrific condition in Burma,” said the letter, initiated by two Japanese MPs, Azuma Konno and Tadashi Inuzuka, both members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Historically Japan has oscillated between muted support for the Burmese junta and soft condemnation, an approach that Burma observers and human rights groups have repeatedly criticized. The DPJ, sworn in earlier this year amid expectation that it would be sterner in its approach to the junta than the former Liberal Democratic Party, announced last month that it would be willing to provide more aid to Burma on condition that detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is released. Signatories to the letter come from a diverse range of Asian, European, North and South American countries, including Brazil, United States, Cambodia and India. Both the Cambodian and Indian governments have come under fire from activists who claim they are failing to adequately pressure the Burmese junta to end human rights abuses. The letter said that despite differing policies towards investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes, “all the MPs are deeply concerned about the humanitarian conditions in Burma”. It urged the security council to “take action as it did for similar conditions in Rwanda and Darfur”. Last month a group of high-profile British MPs tabled a parliamentary motion calling for a similar UN investigation into Burma; the second time the UK parliament has been petitioned on the issue this year. The UN, in particular the five-member security council, has also been criticized for inaction on Burma. Much of the criticism stems from conflicts of interest between China and the US; China, Burma’s principal ally, has on several occasions vetoed UN resolutions calling for an end to state-sanctioned abuses in Burma.

Global Justice Center calls for an end to impunity for crimes of sexual violence in Burma

The Global Justice Center issued the following press release on December 10, International Human Rights Day:

On International Human Rights Day the Global Justice Center commends U.S. Ambassador
Verveer for calling for prosecution of military crimes in Burma.

On December 5, 2009 U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer,
made clear that Burma’s military junta must be held accountable for human rights abuses and that “those guilty of crimes against women be prosecuted.”

The Global Justice Center applauds the United States’ call to end the impunity for military rapists in Burma. GJC President Janet Benshoof said, “Ambassador Verveer’s statements are further proof that the U.S. is stepping up to the plate to fulfill its legal obligations under Security Council Resolutions requiring all States ensure that military perpetrators of rape and other crimes of sexual violence against women in conflict areas are held criminally accountable.”

Ambassador Verveer’s statement, resulting from a meeting in Thailand with women’s rights activists from Burma, follows the lead of Secretary of State Rodham Clinton, who cited to the use of rape in Burma as a “tactic of war” as an example of why the Security Council should adopt additional measures to protect women. These calls for accountability are reinforced by President Obama’s December 10th speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, which underscored that the repression in Burma evokes “consequences.”

Since 2000, the Security Council has unanimously passed four Resolutions finding that the growing use of violence against women in situations of armed conflict threatens international peace and security. Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889 require that States and the United Nations take specific measures to ensure women’s rights to equality and justice, both during and after conflict.

On July 15, 2009, Burma was reported to the Security Council by the Secretary-General as a country violating Resolution 1820, citing to the impunity afforded the military’s systematic use of sexual violence against women as part of the junta assaults on ethnic populations. Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820 and 1888 note that such crimes against women can constitute war crimes, a crime against humanity or a constituent act with respect to genocide. The Resolutions require that all perpetrators of these crimes be prosecuted in either domestic or international courts; SCR 1820 specifically recalls the Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court and prohibits any amnesties for these crimes.

Benshoof states that, “The Security Council has pledged to take further action in situations of
noncompliance and Burma is such a situation. Ensuring criminal accountability of the Burmese
military junta is not a political choice but a legal obligation, and one which the Security Council has recognized ultimately falls on them to fulfill. The Geneva Conventions and Council Resolutions require the Security Council to refer Burma to the International Criminal Court. The military junta has had a free ride in using crime, including rape as a weapon of war, to terrorize a country. The global community must join the United States in telling the ruling junta their crime spree is over.”

Obama Calls for Accountability in Burma

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech on December 10, United States President Barack Obama called for accountability for violations of international law. Mentioning Burma in particular, Obama called on the international community to come together to bring an end to human rights violations. He said, "When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo or repression in Burma - there must be consequences." He also acknowledged the continued struggle of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a fellow laureate who remains under house arrest by the SPDC.

For more information, see the following article from the Irrawaddy, also available at

Obama Warns Dictators of "Consequences" in Nobel Acceptance Speech
By Lalit K Jha

WASHINGTON — Even as his administration begins a new policy of engagement with Burma's junta, US President Barack Obama warned in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech on Thursday that oppressive regimes face “consequences” if they violate the rights of their own citizens.

In his speech, delivered in Oslo, Norway, Obama specifically mentioned Burma as one of the countries where there is systematic abuse of human rights by the government and honored opposition leader and fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for her commitment to democratic reform.

A portrait of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is held during a torchlit parade to a hotel where US President Barack Obama was staying in Oslo on December 10. (Photo: Reuters)

Acknowledging that he has adopted a policy of engagement with the Burmese junta, Obama said that “sanctions without outreach—and condemnation without discussion—can carry forward a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.”

However, he also warned that the world could not afford to ignore threats to peace from regimes that menace their neighbors or their own citizens.

“Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war. The same principle applies to those who violate international laws by brutalizing their own people,” he said.

“When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, repression in Burma—there must be consequences,” he added.

“Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy—but there must be consequences when those things fail. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.”

Obama also rejected the notion that governments must chose between promoting human rights and narrowly pursuing national interests, noting that “neither America's interests nor the world's are served by the denial of human aspirations.”

Peace, he said, “is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear.”

“America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal,” said Obama.

“We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran,” Obama said.

“It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements—these movements of hope and history—they have us on their side.”

On Oct. 9, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee announced that it had awarded the prize to Obama for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

Obama said in a statement soon after the announcement that he would accept the award as “a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.”

“To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace,” Obama said at the time.

Meanwhile, Obama's National Security Adviser, James Jones, said in an statement issued on International Human Rights Day that the Obama administration would continue to call attention to the repression in Burma and Iran.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, also said that the world needed US leadership to deal with human rights abuses noting that violations and genocide continue without resolution in Darfur, while in Burma, Suu Kyi still languishes in detention.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said the US must never lose sight of the plight of those living under dictatorial regimes in China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Article from Mizzima: British MPs Call for Inquiry into Burma's Crimes

by Mungpi
Wednesday, 02 December 2009

New Delhi (Mizzima) - British Parliamentarians on Tuesday urged the British government to support its call to the international community, particularly, the United Nations to set up a commission of inquiry into the crimes against humanity committed by Burma’s military rulers.

The call was made by members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Burma (APPG Burma) during a panel discussion at the British Parliament on ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ in Burma.

Sappho Dias, Chair of the London-based Burma Justice Committee (BJC), who was also a panelist in the discussion said, “It is time for the international community to act on the crimes committed by the Burmese generals. And it is also a reminder to the junta that they cannot get away with what they have done.”

Dias said the Burmese military regime’s crimes including forced displacement, torture, sexual violence, extra-judicial killings and forced labour, have been well documented and it is time for the international community to act, instead of passing resolution after resolution without action.

Citing a report of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, titled ‘Crimes in Burma’, at the panel, Dias said, various United Nations bodies and Special Rapporteurs have all documented evidences of the Burmese junta’s crimes and it is time for the UN Security Council to act.

“The Harvard Law School report is a collection of UN documents and various others studies on the junta’s crimes,” Dias said.

Nang Seng, Campaigns Officer with the Burma Campaign UK, an advocacy group organising the panel discussion, said it is sad that despite the many documentations by various UN bodies on the crimes committed by the junta, UNSC has so far failed to act.

Burma’s military junta, which has ruled the country for the past two decades, has been internationally condemned for its appalling human rights violations, particularly in areas dominated by ethnic minorities.

In October, Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), said at least 75,000 people in eastern Burma were forced to leave their homes during the past one year, making the situation in eastern Burma comparable to that of Darfur in eastern Sudan.

TBBC, an umbrella group of aid agencies providing humanitarian assistance to Burmese refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) along the Thai-Burmese border, said between August 2008 and July 2009, about 120 communities were put into disarray, accounting for a total of over 3,500 villages and hiding places in eastern Burma that have been destroyed or forcibly relocated since 1996.

Sir Geoffrey Nice, one of the panelists and one of the five legal experts that commissioned the Harvard report, during the panel discussion explained the that various UN documents and reports by Special Rapporteurs are sufficient to hold the Burmese junta accountable for their actions.

Despite widespread criticism, Burma’s military junta justifies that it has not committed any crimes against humanity but has saved the multi-nationalities country from falling apart as several ethnic rebels are fighting to secede.

The junta, in its daily mouthpiece newspaper, often accuses ethnic resistance groups, based along the borders, of instigating public unrest by setting off explosions in cities across the country, and of torturing and killing local villagers.

Sappho Dias, a lawyer by profession, said, “Once the commission of inquiry is established, the junta’s excuses cannot be accepted. Based on the commission’s findings, they would be held accountable.”

In support of the campaign to the UNSC to set up a commission of inquiry, members of the APPG-Burma last week tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM), which was supported by over 40 Members of Parliament, including high profile MPs across parties, who signed the EDM.

"There is well documented evidence highlighting Burma's use of widespread torture and forced labour against its civilians," said Alistair Carmichael, Secretary to the APPG Burma.

"It is imperative that the United Nations establishes a Commission of Inquiry into these heinous crimes and supports the International Labour Organisation's calls to refer the use of forced labour to the International Court of Justice," added Carmichael.

See original post at

Monday, November 30, 2009

Parliamentarians from South and Southeast Asia Call for Free and Fair Elections in Burma

Parliamentarians from South and Southeast Asian nations met on Friday, November 27, 2009 in New Delhi for a meeting of the Parliamentarians' Solidarity for the Struggle of Democracy in Burma. Those at the meeting acknowledged the systematic human rights abuses in Burma, including attacks on ethnic groups, and expressed concern that unfair elections in 2010 would only cement brutal leaders in power. Representatives from regional nations called on fellow leaders in South and Southeast Asia to urge the government of Burma to release all political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, cease attacks on ethnic groups, and foster genuine democratization in the country. Specifically, the parliamentarians called for substantial review of the flawed 2008 Constitution and cooperation from the international community in ensuring that the upcoming elections are indeed free and fair. The parliamentarians stated that elections based on a constitution that only serves to perpetuate the military regime will not lead to real democratic change.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Article on BLC's participation in ICC Assembly of State Parties in the Hague - from The Irrawaddy

Junta Crimes to be Raised in the Hague
By Arkar Moe

The Burma Lawyers’ Council (BLC) is attending a Nov 18-26 meeting of the Assembly of State Parties to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to discuss the Burmese military government's alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and other human rights abuses.

BLC General Secretary Aung Htoo, who is based in exile, has been attending the meetings in the Netherlands as an NGO delegate from Burma for the first time.

According to the International Criminal Court's (ICC) web site, the grouping will discuss "ICC Campaigns in Asia: Prospects and Challenges in Afghanistan, Burma and Indonesia" on Nov. 25.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, Thein Oo, the chairman of the BLC, said, “We intend to cooperate with International Criminal Court and to create a network to take more action against the Burmese military junta. Moreover, we intend to share our experience of the junta’s abuses and crimes, and discuss how we can cooperate to establish a regional network.”

He added: “We expect the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) to cooperate among state parties and put more pressure on the Burmese junta through the UN and the ICC. We especially want to lobby harder because representatives of China and other world powers will be attending."

The CICC is a network of over 2,500 nongovernment organizations which work closely with the ICC.

“Actually, we all need to practice alternative approaches to the Burmese military junta and pave ways for preventive actions,” Thein Oo said.

The director of Thailand-based rights group Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, Aung Myo Min, told The Irrawaddy on Monday: “It’s very hard to put the issue of the Burmese junta's crimes against humanity to the ICC because Burma is not yet a signatory to the ICC. But, the UN Security Council can take the junta to task about its deplorable humna rights record. The Burmese regime has commited many crimes such as the conscription of child soldiers and the systematic rape of ethnic women which should be put before the ICC.”

The Burmese military authorities issued Order 1/2009 in April, blacklisting the BLC as an unlawful association. This order came alongside a campaign of defamation in the Burmese state-run press, which denounced the BLC as an “enemy of the state,” and accusing BLC members, in particular those working with the ICC, of “violating the rule of law of Burma.”

The ICC was established in 2002 as a permanent international tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The ICC has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes which have been committed or are being committed if a given state’s judicial system is unable or unwilling to investigate and take legal action to ensure justice.

In July, the CICC called on the Security Council to press for the surrender and trial of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and others wanted for serious crimes committed in Darfur.

Junta Crimes To be Raised in the Hague (the Irawaddy)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

FIDH Press Release Regarding Recent UN General Assembly Resolution on Burma

Burma: UN General Assembly Resolution: Time for Concrete Action

Paris - New York, November 20 2009 : The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN -Burma) and Burma Lawyer’s Council (BLC) welcome the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar/Burma. The resolution "strongly condemns the ongoing systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms" of the people of Burma and calls on the military regime "to take urgent measures to put an end to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law."

The resolution was adopted by the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights, with a record of 92 member States voting in favor and 26 member States voting against. FIDH notes with concern that ASEAN states, by abstaining or voting against the resolution, once again demonstrated their tolerance of impunity. The UN body expresses its grave concern over the recent trial and sentencing of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and the current imprisonment of more that 2,000 political prisoners, as well as the restrictions imposed by the junta to rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Moreover, the resolution "expresses grave concern at the continuing practice of arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and strongly calls upon the Government of Myanmar to allow a full, transparent, effective, impartial and independent investigation into all reports of human rights violations, and to bring to justice those responsible in order to end impunity for such crimes".

FIDH, ALTSEAN - Burma and BLC organized a series of meetings in New York to advocate for the adoption of a resolution addressing the serious allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the armed forces of the junta and the crucial issue of impunity.1 The UN General Assembly indeed requested that the Burmese military regime "take urgent measures to put an end to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including the targeting of persons belonging to particular ethnic groups, the targeting of civilians by military operations, and rape and other forms of sexual violence, and to end impunity for such acts".

FIDH, ALTSEAN - Burma and BLC call once again on the international community to address the crucial issues of crimes against humanity and war crimes in the eastern part of the country. An international commission of inquiry is necessary in order to investigate these serious allegations and to contribute toward peace and democracy in Burma by putting an end to persistent and institutionalized impunity. Our Organizations firmly believe that it is the responsibility of the UN Security Council to address the specific instances of these crimes occurring in Burma as part of its responsibility to ensure the protection of civilians, women and children in armed conflicts.

See press release at

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Global Justice Center and Burma Lawyers' Council Argue International Crisis Group's Support for 2010 Elections Violates International Law

The Global Justice Center (GJC) and the Burma Lawyers' Council (BLC) sent a letter to the International Crisis Group (ICG) expressing concern over the ICG's support for Burma's 2010 elections.

The ICG published a report in August 2009 that calls on states and the United Nations to support Burma's 2008 constitution and the 2010 elections. The 2008 constitution calls for blanket amnesties for SPDC crimes, in direct opposition to jus cogens norms and states' obligations under the Geneva Conventions. The constitution also violates Security Council Resolution 1820, which prohibits amnesties for violence against women in conflict. The ICG report also overlooks the fact that states have legal obligations to prosecute and punish war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity - obligations that are obstructed by the ICG's recommendation that states support the constitution and the elections, which will solidify systematic impunity for perpetrators of heinous crimes.

Link to the full text of the letter in column at right.

Friday, October 30, 2009

TBBC compares situation in Eastern Burma to Darfur

The Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) reported an increase in military attacks in Eastern Burma. The group expects abuses on civilians to continue to increase in the months approaching the 2010 elections. While the SPDC has perpetrated many crimes against humanity, the TBBC states that evidence of forced displacement is the single strongest indicator that these crimes are indeed occurring in Karen and Shan states.

TBBC notes that the scale of forced displacement in Eastern Burma is comparable to that in Darfur, an area of Sudan suffering from rampant human rights abuses.

The United Nations Security Council referred Sudan to the International Criminal Court after a commission of inquiry confirmed that the Sudanese government was committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. The unfortunate yet striking similarities between the crimes of Eastern Burma and Sudan should persuade the Security Council to establish a commission of inquiry into the conflict in Burma.

See the TBBC press release at

Monday, October 12, 2009

New ICTJ Report on Impunity in Burma

The International Center for Transitional Justice recently released a report, Impunity Prolonged: Burma and its 2008 Constitution, describing the lack of accountability for rampant sexual violence, forced labor, and use of child soldiers in Burma. See the full report at

Join the Burma Lawyers' Council in calling for an international commission of inquiry to investigate crimes in Burma

The SPDC is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity – and getting away with it. Killings, torture, rape, forced relocation, the use of child soldiers, and other international crimes are being committed under a system of total impunity.

Burma’s State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is refusing to uphold its legal obligations under international human rights law, customary international law, and Security Council Resolutions 1325 (addressing disproportionate impact of conflict on women) and 1820 (addressing sexual violence against civilians). The SPDC has engaged in systematic human rights violations including killings and forced disappearances, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, forced labor and relocation, and other serious violations of international law. These crimes are widespread, and are targeted specifically at civilian populations. Victims have no recourse to justice in Burma. Worse still, article 445 of the 2008 constitution purports to grant amnesty for SPDC leaders for all crimes, further decreasing the hopes of bringing perpetrators to justice.

Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute, the treaty that initiated the International Criminal Court, include the crimes listed above in their definitions of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The International Criminal Court would therefore have jurisdiction over leaders of the SPDC if the United Nations Security Council referred the situation to the Court.

Extensive evidence demonstrates that some leaders of the SPDC - mainly Senior General Than Shwe and his elite military leaders - are committing crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the Rome Statute under systematic impunity. This evidence is sufficient for the United Nations Security Council to form an international commission of inquiry to investigate these crimes in Burma. If the commission finds evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity, the United Nations Security Council can then refer Burmese leaders to the International Criminal Court. The Burma Lawyers’ Council calls upon the international human rights community to uphold its responsibility to protect civilians in Burma by urging the United Nations Security Council to establish a commission of inquiry.

Interested human rights advocates and organizations should write letters to members of the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations Secretary General, urging them to establish a commission of inquiry in Burma.