Friday, March 26, 2010

Statement on the Special Rapporteur’s Recommendation for a Commission of Inquiry

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.

UK Backs Move to Refer Burma's Leaders to War Crimes Tribunal

Via The Guardian

Britain is backing moves to refer Burma's military leaders to the international criminal court for investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity. The move is part of a heightened campaign to force the junta to embrace genuine democratic reforms, diplomatic and government sources told the Guardian today.

In a tough démarche that will increase pressure on the isolated regime ahead of planned elections this autumn, Britain's ambassador to the UN said the UK supported a recommendation by the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma that The Hague-based international court opens a war crimes investigation.

Speaking after a security council meeting, Sir Mark Lyall Grant said the council's five permanent members were "not sufficiently unanimous" in their views to allow an ICC referral to happen immediately. But if such a proposal were tabled, he said, Britain would support it. Nearly 200 MPs have backed the referral campaign.

Britain, the former colonial power, is keen to use the threat of security council action to press the junta into dropping new rules that exclude political prisoners, past and present, from standing for election or belonging to political parties.

"Our number one objective is to increase pressure on the regime to clarify the election rules and hold free and fair elections," a British official said. The UK was pursuing the issue "robustly" with the US, France and other like-minded states at the UN and in other forums, such as the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the official added.

If Burma's junta refuses to change the election rules and opposition parties are forced into a boycott, Britain is understood to be ready to propose a tough range of EU economic sanctions. Any decision on proposing such sanctions would be made by Gordon Brown, who has taken a personal interest in the plight of the Burmese people, and could come as early next week.

A government source said the election rules were "clearly taking the piss" and were not a serious effort to democratise the country, a view that was increasingly shared by Burma's neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

An announcement of an election date could come within the next few days, the source said. "This will clearly be a big moment for the regime and there is no sign they will change course. So all our efforts will be focused on trying to make sure there is a chorus of condemnation and making clear that they [the polls] won't do anything to legitimise the regime."

Burma's National League for Democracy (NLD), the largest opposition party led by the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, is expected to announce on Monday whether it will register to participate in the elections. As matters stand, she and many of the NLD's other leading figures would be automatically disqualified because they have served, or are serving jail terms.

"If [Aung San] Suu Kyi decides to pull out, that will be the death knell for the elections," the British source said.

Aung San Suu Kyi was quoted this week by her lawyer as saying she opposed the NLD's participation, but that the decision was not hers alone. "Personally I would not dream of registering the NLD under such an unjust and one-sidedly drawn-up state constitution," she said.

The junta's decision to hold elections, the first since 1990 when the NLD won in a landslide, is widely seen as an effort to gain international respectability for the regime and end US and EU sanctions. But activists and human rights groups have already denounced the rules of the poll.

Welcoming Britain's backing for an ICC referral, Anna Roberts, the director of Burma Campaign UK, said: "The generals in Burma will never allow justice and democracy ... Rather than engaging with the fake elections, the international community should focus on putting the generals in jail, where they belong."

The campaign to bring war crimes charges against junta members, including General Than Shwe, Burma's de facto head of state, received a boost this month when the UN's special rapporteur, Tomás Ojea Quintana, described "a pattern of gross and systematic violation of human rights" of Burmese civilians. The abuses, including killings, rape, torture, ethnic cleansing and forced labour, were the result of long-standing state policy, he said.

See original article at