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.