Thursday, August 26, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also said the administration is considering tightening financial sanctions against the regime as part of an effort to force it to open its authoritarian political system and free thousands of political prisoners.
By supporting the commission of inquiry, the Obama administration is committing itself to backing a U.N. investigation of the military junta led since 1992 by Senior Gen. Than Shwe.
The 77-year-old dictator has been accused of leading brutal campaigns against ethnic insurgencies and Burmese dissidents, such as the 2007 crackdown on the "Saffron Revolution," during which scores of protesters, including Buddhist monks, were killed and thousands jailed. Than Shwe's State Peace and Development Council also overturned election results in 1990 that favored the political party of Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi, who was named a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, remains under house arrest.
"What's important here is that this is not aimed at the people of Burma but at its leadership, particularly at Than Shwe," said a senior administration official.
Human rights organizations welcomed the news.
"I think this is an extremely smart move," said Tom Malinowski, director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch. "So long as Burma's military elite believe that their leader's strategy of defying his people and the world is working for them personally, they will continue to resist political compromise at home and engagement with the U.S."
The Obama administration entered office with a desire to shift course on Burma -- both as part of a strategy to improve relations with all the nations of Southeast Asia and as part of a belief that Burma, also known as Myanmar, should not be allowed to become a client state of China.
The administration decided last fall to begin to engage with the Burmese regime. It dispatched high-ranking diplomats and held out the prospect of the resumption of some aid. It opened discussions about Burma's planned upcoming elections in the hope that the regime would allow some measure of democracy. The administration also raised its concerns with Burma about its military relationship with North Korea following reports that Burma was exploring the possibility of a nuclear weapons program.
But Burma has rebuffed the outreach and announced a series of severe restrictions on campaigning ahead of coming elections, prompting the regime's opposition to all but withdraw.
Added another senior administration official: "There have been no positive results on democracy and human rights in our diplomatic engagement."
The commission of inquiry has been urged by the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana. Commissions can be established directly by the U.N. secretary general -- as happened in the case of the Bosnian war crimes commission in the early 1990s. They also could be established by a vote of the Security Council, although China would probably block such a move.
Some debate whether the prospect of a war crimes charge can change the behavior of a regime. Sudan's leader, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, was indicted in 2008 and has yet to be arrested.
Slobodan Milosevic, the former leader of Serbia and one of the main forces behind the devastation of Bosnia and Croatia in the early 1990s, was arrested after leaving office and went before the war crimes tribunal at The Hague, although he died during his trial. Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor is on trial at The Hague for alleged war crimes.
Malinowski said the U.S. decision Tuesday probably won't much change the calculations of a dictator such as Than Shwe but could cause some concern among younger members of the junta.
"There's a whole generation of military elites in Burma who will be making choices in the next few years," he said. "This is aimed at them."
Thursday, August 12, 2010
From Human Rights Watch:
Burma: EU Should Endorse International War Crimes Inquiry
Raise Commission of Inquiry in UN Resolution on Burma
(Brussels) - European Union member states should publicly support the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in September, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to EU foreign ministers today.
Human Rights Watch urged the EU to include a Commission of Inquiry in the draft resolution on Burma for the General Assembly. Such a move follows up on the March 2010 statement by the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, calling on the UN to consider the possibility of establishing a Commission of Inquiry into crimes in violation of international law committed in Burma.
"Ritually condemning Burma in annual General Assembly resolutions is no longer enough," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The UN needs to raise the price for continuing abuses by starting to investigate them."
In support of Quintana's call, the European Parliament on May 20 passed a resolution on Burma calling on the EU High Representative and member states to publicly support the UN's establishment of a Commission of Inquiry on Burma and to include this request in the General Assembly's draft resolution on Burma at the upcoming session.
Some EU member states, as well as the government of Australia, have already publicly pledged their support for an international commission for Burma.
The June 2010 Kampala Declaration resulting from the Review Conference of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), reiterated the commitment of 111 ICC member states "to put an end to impunity for perpetrators of the most serious crimes of international concern." EU states, which are all members of the ICC, should demonstrate that commitment by taking a leading role in pushing for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to investigate abuses by all parties amounting to war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in Burma, Human Rights Watch said.
For years UN special mechanisms, Human Rights Watch, and others have documented and publicly reported on serious, widespread, and systemic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Burma. There have been 19 resolutions on Burma in the UN General Assembly alone since 1992.
Human Rights Watch also released today an extensive Q & A that addresses various issues relating to accountability for crimes in violation of international law in Burma.
"Continuing business as usual in Burma will only embolden rights abusers" Roth said. "Establishing an international Commission of Inquiry would be an important first step towards bringing abusers to justice and ending impunity in Burma."
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
“I presented to him information about the human rights situation in Burma such as the fact that right activists have to hide their human rights educational work from authorities, the activists, who are arrested if they use rights terms in their work,” HREIB staff member Cherry Zahau said. “Moreover, I told him that 43 child soldiers had been recruited so far in this year, according to various reports on this issue.”
Meeting Quintana was for restoration of democracy in Burma and the HREIB was willing to co-operate with the military junta to fulfill this mission, the institute told the UN human rights special envoy at the meeting.
The UN envoy also met pro-democracy and ethnic organisations based in Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border on Saturday, Teik Naing, general secretary of the Association Assistance for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPPB), said.
“We explained how the junta has tortured and persecuted political prisoners … For instance, innocent persons were framed as suspects in the Thingyan bomb blast case, were severely beaten under interrogation and forced to give confessions,” Teik Naing said, of those accused of the blasts at a water-festival pavilion in Rangoon in April.
Moreover, Quintana told the Burmese pro-democracy organisations he would collect information on the situation of refugees who had recently fled across the Thai border, Forum for Democracy in Burma General Secretary Dr. Naing Aung told Mizzima.
“And also he told us about the ‘commission of inquiry’ and his opinions on it, the probable obstacles and difficulties it would face, the grounds for constituting this commission of inquiry, who will give a final decision on it, the impact of such a commission would have, not only on the SPDC [the junta] but also on others,” Naing Aung said, of Quintana’s call in March for the UN Human Rights Council to consider the establishment of a commission of inquiry into possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.
Such a high-level UN inquiry into serious international crimes in Burma could result in a recommendation for a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor to initiate an investigation.
Quintana said in his March 8 report to the UN rights council that the grave crimes perpetrated by the Burmese army were a “result of state policy that involves authorities in the executive, military and judiciary at all levels”.
He was appointed in 2008 and has visited Burma three times, last visiting for the country five days in February this year, on missions that led to the recommendations for an inquiry in the March report.
Inter Press Service news agency reported today, citing diplomatic and UN sources that the Burmese junta had denied Quintana a visa to return to Burma for his fourth visit.
Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand today to meet activists during a fact-finding mission ahead of the submission of a report on Burmese junta’s rights violations, activists said.
His investigations on this trip to Thailand also led to meetings with members of the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), the Shwe Gas Movement, and ethnic Shan, Mon and Chin rights organisations.
The junta’s mouthpiece, the New Light of Myanmar, reported on April 7 that the junta’s human rights committee would submit its report to the UN Human Rights Council next February, a year after Qintana’s. Home Affairs deputy minister Major General Maung Oo is head of the committee, which reportedly constituted nine sub-committees handling home affairs, legal, social, labour, health, education, international affairs, religious affairs and women’s affairs rights issues.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
(New York) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on July 12, 2010, for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan for genocide committed in Darfur. An earlier arrest warrant for al-Bashir was issued in March 2009 by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
This is the first time the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for the crime of genocide. The warrant is for al-Bashir's alleged role as an indirect perpetrator or indirect co-perpetrator of genocide in Darfur through killing, causing bodily or mental harm, and deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring physical destruction.
"President al-Bashir's stonewalling on the initial ICC warrant against him appears only more outrageous now that he's also being sought for genocide," said Elise Keppler, senior counsel with the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "Security Council members and other concerned governments should actively press Sudan to stop its blatant obstruction of the ICC and to see to it that al-Bashir appears at the court."
The ICC has jurisdiction over international crimes committed in Darfur, even though Sudan is not a party to the court, under Security Council Resolution 1593, which referred Darfur to the ICC and obligates Sudan to cooperate with the ICC.
The ICC pre-trial chamber declined to include genocide charges when it issued the first warrant for al-Bashir. The prosecutor's office appealed the decision on the basis that the chamber had used an inappropriate standard of proof in declining to include the genocide charges. In a March 2010 ruling, the appeals chamber agreed and instructed the pre-trial chamber to reassess genocide charges on the basis that genocide could be one reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the material submitted, while not necessarily the only reasonable conclusion. On July 12, the pre-trial chamber issued a ruling that resulted in the second warrant on genocide charges.
Human Rights Watch has found in its research on Darfur that the highest levels of the Sudanese leadership, including al-Bashir, are responsible for creating and coordinating the government's counterinsurgency policy in Darfur, which deliberately and systematically targeted civilians in violation of international law. Human Rights Watch has described the crimes in Darfur as "ethnic cleansing," war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch has not taken a position on whether the crimes constitute genocide due to insufficient information in its research on whether the actions were carried out with the "intent to destroy in whole or in part an ethnic group," an element of the crime of genocide.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Steve Marshall, the International Labor Organization's liaison officer in Burma, says over the past three years there have been "significant steps" toward eliminating forced labor in the country. The most progress has been in private organizations and the civil administration.
"To an extent, the government has passed laws which say that forced labor is illegal, which is a very important first step of cours," said Marshall. "The government has undertaken quite a lot of educational activity among local authorities particularly within the military as to the law and the responsibilities under the law."
Burma's military government has long used forced labor in everything from building roads to carrying military supplies through the jungle. At its extremes, there have been reports of people being pressed to walk through mine fields as human minesweepers.
Rights groups say thousands of Burmese are forced to work against their will, including children and the elderly. Many suffer abuse, including gang rape and murder.
Marshall said Thursday in Bangkok the military particularly continues to use forced labor.
"There are some indicators within the civilian side of the administration, which is very good," said Marshall. "In the military side of the administration, there is no clear evidence of any change whatsoever."
One area of progress has been a new system that allows citizens to complain to the ILO. That has helped the rescue children forced to join the military.
In its new report, the ILO report says the government now regularly discharges under-age soldiers if complaints are filed.
Some armed ethnic groups also use child soldiers and Burma's government has allowed the ILO to talk with them to try to end the practice.
Marshall says there are moves to write new labor laws to allow trade unions once a new parliament is convened after elections later this year.
Regional political analysts say Burma's government appears to be taking a more cautious approach in dealing with labor and economic issues ahead of the elections. The vote will be the first in 20 years and is expected to place the government under the international spotlight.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
At the first International Criminal Court (ICC) Review Conference earlier this month in Kampala, Uganda, state delegates and civil society organizations from around the world took stock of the Court’s successes and challenges since its inception in 2002. The conference focused on the five situation countries currently before the Court: Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Kenya. The Court is at various stages in these five countries, ranging from investigations to ongoing trials.
Those attending the Review Conference debated the effectiveness of Court in achieving a sense of justice for victims, methods for victims and affected communities to participate in the Court, and ways in which the Court could support and strengthen domestic legal systems. The Conference cast into sharp relief the differences between the voices of victims and the state delegates who were reforming the Court. There is a disconnect between the agony of surviving criminality and the politics of passing amendments and making official statements. Those operating at the international level to reform the Court should remember why the Court is so necessary – to allow victims to receive some measure of justice and to end impunity in places where it has thrived for so long.
While we must thoroughly analyze the work of the Court relating to these five countries, we must not forget the situations out of the reach of the ICC – situations including the ongoing abuses in Burma.
War crimes and crimes against humanity are occurring amid systematic impunity in Burma. The ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), commits crimes against its people including unlawful killings, forced labor, sexual and gender-based violence, forced relocation, and the use of child soldiers. These and other crimes are targeted with shocking regularity against members of ethnic groups. Because Burma has not ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty that initiated the ICC, the only way the Court could have jurisdiction over the situation in Burma is through a United Nations Security Council referral.
There is widespread support to end impunity in Burma at the grassroots level. Victims of heinous human rights violations are clamoring for justice. Burma’s domestic legal system offers little comfort. The nation’s courts serve to implement the whims of the ruling elite. Controlled by the SPDC, Burma’s judiciary interprets Orwellian laws that greatly restrict freedoms of association and the press in ways that quash any modicum of dissent or opposition. There are currently over 2100 political prisoners in Burma who were arrested under such laws that prohibit freedoms of speech, press, and assembly. Elections later this year, which experts predict will be mired in corruption and illegality, will lead to the implementation of the 2008 constitution, a document that purports to grant a blanket amnesty for all government officials for all crimes, even those defined as war crimes and crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute.
Victims of Burma are looking elsewhere. The international community must support the call to end impunity in Burma. The challenge facing human rights activists is translating the local energy for justice from within Burma into concrete action at the international level. Those advocating for criminal accountability have achieved several recent landmark successes. In a March 2010 report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana recommended the establishment of a commission of inquiry in order to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma. His call was echoed by the United Kingdom, Australia, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. There is significant momentum toward the creation of a commission of inquiry, and the international community must seize it in order to truly end international crimes in Burma.
Friday, March 26, 2010
The Burma Lawyers’ Council applauds the recent report from Tomas Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar/Burma, which acknowledges the widespread and systematic nature of human rights abuses in Burma, indicates that the abuses may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes as defined under the Rome Statute, and calls on the United Nations to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate international crimes in Burma. The report explained that a culture of impunity, weak rule of law, and a lack of independent judiciary allow the regime to implement its pattern of widespread and systematic human rights abuses. Quintana’s report to the Human Rights Council explained the following:
Given the gross and systematic nature of human rights violations in Myanmar over a period of many years, and the lack of accountability, there is an indication that those human rights violations are the result of a State policy that involves authorities in the executive, military and judiciary at all levels. According to consistent reports, the possibility exists that some of these human rights violations may entail categories of crimes against humanity or war crimes under the terms of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The mere existence of this possibility obliges the Government of Myanmar to take prompt and effective measures to investigate these facts. There have clearly been cases where it has been necessary to establish responsibility, but this has not been done. Given this lack of accountability, United Nations institutions may consider the possibility to establish a commission of inquiry with a specific fact-finding mandate to address the question of international crimes.
Mr. Quintana’s report is groundbreaking. Human rights and democracy groups including the Burma Lawyers’ Council have been calling for an investigation into crimes against humanity and war crimes for years, but this report represents the first demand for such an investigation from a United Nations official. The Special Rapporteur’s unprecedented demand signifies the growing outrage over the commission of international crimes in Burma which until now have been met with impunity.
During a dialogue on Burma during a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting, several country representatives echoed Quintana’s call. A representative of the Australian government expressed its support for the establishment of a commission of inquiry and a representative from the United States government indicated that the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation for such an investigation was significant. This meeting demonstrates the growing concern in the international community about impunity in Burma and forecasts increased action from governments at the United Nations level.
The Burma Lawyers’ Council welcomes Mr. Quintana’s report and urges the international community to seize the current momentum and push for a commission of inquiry into international crimes in Burma. Because this year’s elections promise to perpetuate military rule, implement the illegal 2008 Constitution, and enshrine impunity for even the most serious crimes, the international community must act now to end impunity for perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Via Inspire Magazine:
Most recently, Burma army allied troops set fire to 46 houses in Toe Hta area and 28 houses in Ka Di Mu Der area of Ler Doh township, Nyaunglebin District. A vital mobile health clinic, a middle school, and a nursery school in K’Dee Mu Der village and Tee Mu TaVillage were also destroyed by soldiers on 8 February. Other schools have been forced to close.
Thousands of people have been displaced and are still in hiding following the attacks, according to Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a relief organisation working in the conflict zones of eastern Burma.
Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader at the human rights organisation Christian Solidary Worldwide, said: “These latest attacks serve as clear evidence of a brutal plan of ethnic cleansing against the minorities, instigated by Burma’s military regime.
See article at http://www.inspiremagazine.org.uk/news.aspx?action=view&id=4207.
Monday, February 15, 2010
KHU OO REH
SPECIAL TO THE NATION
Published on February 13, 2010
THIS WEEK in 1947, our ethnic leaders signed the historic Panglong Agreement, which envisioned a free Burma in which our people could live together in peace. Within a year, Burma gained its independence from the British. Yet, half a century later, Burma is still not free. Successive military regimes have, over the past 50 years, attempted to achieve "unity", not through dialogue, but with the barrel of a gun. This year, while preparing for the 2010 elections, the junta is trying to achieve a sham democracy through force.
There are those in the international community who believe the elections will provide an opportunity for change. Even if there was the chance for "free and fair" elections, the regime has guaranteed its hold on power through its self-crafted 2008 constitution. The constitution, to be enacted through the elections, will create a new parliament with a civilian facade, while entrenching the current structure where the non-elected commander-in-chief is the most powerful person in the country. Any hope for change is made impossible with the military's approval needed for constitutional amendments.
Most critically, the constitution and elections will provide no respite from suffering for our people. While preparing for the first elections in 20 years, the junta has shown no desire to resolve conflicts through peaceful means. Instead, it is taking extreme measures to destroy the opposition - adding to the more than 2,100 political leaders and activists already in prison and stepping up attacks to wrest power from ethnic armed and unarmed groups. The new constitution will only further systemise this discrimination against ethnic people.
These elections, the last step in the military's sham "roadmap to democracy", are the biggest threat yet to the vision of Panglong. People may ask, why can't we go along with the regime's plan and participate in these elections? This is because they deny the things we have been fighting for all these years - equality and federalism.
In the half century of military rule, it is our people who have paid the highest price. This is why we cannot accept a false democracy that legitimises the military's control and subjugation of the Burmese people. Since independence, our myriad ethnic groups - which make up over 40 per cent of Burma's population - have never enjoyed political or economic equality with the majority. Since the first military coup in 1962, the junta has systematically implemented a policy of "Burmanisation", inundating our culture with the mainstream Burmese culture, and tightly restricting the freedom to teach our languages in schools and practice our traditions.
As leaders of Burma's ethnic resistance, we have seen the devastating consequences of the regime's tactics against our people. Now, it is only hastening efforts to wipe out any remaining resistance prior to the 2010 elections. Just last year, military offensives in eastern Burma forced more than 43,800 ethnic people to flee the country, just the latest wave of refugees streaming over Burma's borders. Some of these attacks were part and parcel of the regime's ongoing policy of targeting ethnic civilians in order to undermine its opposition. The junta's tactic, often referred to as "draining the ocean so the fish cannot swim", has destroyed more than 3,500 villages in eastern Burma in the last 10 years.
The regime has also increased hostility against ethnic ceasefire groups, to further consolidate control before the elections. It wants to force them to join a new Border Guard Force under the command of the SPDC army. Its strategy? A continuation of its divide-and-rule policy, which mobilises proxy ethnic forces to help the military regime attack and commit crimes against their own ethnic people.
Already, preparations for the elections have only served to aggravate the explosive situation in Burma and the racist constitution will only foment further chaos. Much like the 1983 apartheid constitution of South Africa, the Burmese constitution aims to legitimise majority rule through the token participation of ethnic people in a new parliament. Like its apartheid South African counterpart, Burma's new constitution deprives ethnic people of fundamental rights, and makes it virtually impossible for them to have any real political representation. Instead of recognising our demands for equality and federalism, the regime is trying to cement its control over ethnic areas, to guarantee its continued profit from the rich natural resources in these areas. And by providing the regime blanket immunity for past war crimes and crimes against humanity, the constitution sanctions the continuation of these atrocities.
As leaders of the ethnic resistance movement, we know that this election is not a solution to the crises faced by our people. More than ever, we are working closely together with our pro-democracy brothers and sisters on the path to true national reconciliation. We believe that to even begin to hope for democratic progress, three essential benchmarks must be met:
l The release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who still commands deep respect and admiration from ethnic groups;
l The cessation of attacks against ethnic communities; and
l Dialogue with all stakeholders, including a review of the 2008 constitution.
These demands are in line with Suu Kyi, the NLD and other pro-democratic forces inside and in exile and were echoed by the UN General Assembly in a Christmas Eve resolution.
If the regime refuses to meet these benchmarks, we need world leaders to take their efforts one step further, as they did when South Africa held its apartheid elections in 1984. Back then, the UN Security Council rallied to the cause of black South Africans, by declaring its racist constitution "null and void", and calling on governments not to recognise the result of the elections.
South Africa's road to freedom was a long and tortuous one, but a people's movement, supported by the world, was able to bring the racist regime to an end. Our struggle for equality and freedom in Burma has been long, but we are more united than ever before. Instead of calling for "free and fair" elections, which simply buys into the regime's plan, the international community should call on the junta to meet the benchmarks, and if they do not, denounce the elections and not recognise the results.