Burma: France called to suport an UN inquiry into crimes against humanity

Source: FIDH.

The United Nations (UN) are under mounting pressure to create a commission of inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity commited by the Burmeses regime. A broad coalition of human rights organizations, including the Burma Lawyers' Counicil (BLC, national focal point of Social Watch) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), are focusing the pressure now on the European Union and specially on France. Those groups sent this month an open letter to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Minister of Foreign and European Affaires, Alain Juppé, with copy to the Ambassador of France to Burma, Thierry Mathou. with that purpose.

The open letter reads as follows:

On the 23rd anniversary of Burma’s nationwide pro-democracy uprising on 8 August 1988 and the subsequent violent crackdown, Info-Birmanie, the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen (LDH), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma) and the Burma Lawyers’ Council (BLC) would like to seek your urgent attention and action to address the deteriorating human rights situation in Burma as well as the impact of the ongoing conflict in ethnic nationalities areas.

In order to address impunity which is the country’s biggest obstacle to reconciliation and democratic transition, our organizations call on your authority to urge the international community, especially the European Union, to act to establish a United Nations-mandated Commission of Inquiry into international crimes committed in Burma.

In the past 20 years, the UN General Assembly has made 18 calls on the Burmese government to fully and promptly investigate gross human rights abuses, some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. These calls have been consistently ignored as serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law continue up to this day, gravely undermining lasting peace and political dialogue.

The abuses documented by UN institutions and procedures and their description in past General Assembly resolutions provide prima facie evidence that points to the commission of numerous different types of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These includes the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, forced labour, deliberate targeting of civilians, use of torture, forced displacement, recruitment of child soldiers, imprisonment of almost 2,000 political opponents, and persecution of ethnic minorities. Recognizing the lack of accountability for such abuses over many years, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma has called on the UN to consider the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry since March 2010.

The EU is responsible for drafting this year’s General Assembly resolution on Burma. FIDH, LDH, Altsean-Burma, Info-Birmanie and BLC call on France to mobilize all EU Member States to fully support the inclusion in the resolution of a request to set up a Commission of Inquiry. We believe it is high time that the international community recognize and confront the unwillingness of the Burmese authorities to end impunity for international crimes which continue unabated after the sham elections in November 2010.

Our organizations believe that a Commission should have a mandate to:

- Investigate and verify the allegations of serious abuses perpetrated by the Burmese government and its State security forces, brought forward by various UN procedures and institutions and non-governmental organizations;

- Determine whether these human rights violations constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes under international law;

- Document whether measures have been undertaken by the authorities to prevent the crimes, investigate and prosecute the perpetrators, and provide justice for victims; and

- Make recommendations on remedies, accountability, and rule of law reforms and reparations measures to adequately address these crimes.

While recognizing that serious abuses have been perpetrated throughout the country, our organizations consider that those that may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes have been perpetrated on a larger scale in particular regions of Burma, including Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Shan, Karenni, Karen, and Mon States. The temporal scope of a Commission of Inquiry should be determined in consultation with human rights organizations which have been documenting these crimes and be sufficiently wide enough to reflect the gravity and persistence of the crimes over many decades.

Our organizations consider a UN Commission of Inquiry to be an effective tool of restorative transitional justice to ensure that victims of crimes have access to the truth, protection, justice and reparation under international law. There is an increasing urgency to deter new crimes due to increased military attacks on civilians in recent months, especially in Kachin, Shan, and Karen States. The work of a Commission of Inquiry provides an important basis for inclusive tripartite dialogue among the democratic opposition, ethnic nationalities, and the government, essential to genuine national reconciliation and democratic transition. Peace, national reconciliation, and democratic transition will remain elusive if justice is sacrificed for political expediency.

It would be a serious misjudgment to think that ignoring the need for accountability and avoiding a Commission of Inquiry would somehow encourage the government to be more open to dialogue and cease human rights violations; far from it, shying away from accountability would only serve to abet the further commission of serious crimes and push Burma further away from genuine and lasting reconciliation.

In his latest report on the “role of regional and sub-regional arrangements in implementing the responsibility to protect,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized that the “responsibility to protect is a universal principle” and that this responsibility “requires accountability.” [1] Accountability requires, as a first step, credible investigation. The Secretary-General further stated that the responsibility to protect “relies on the whole range of policy instruments,” including “the tools of investigation, fact-finding […] and conflict resolution laid out in Chapters VI and VIII” of the UN Charter.

The EU, as a key stakeholder, has both the moral leadership and imperative to heed the calls of the UN and uphold their responsibility to protect the people of Burma from international crimes. The EU has also traditionally supported efforts for accountability around the world. It is therefore time for the EU to demonstrate political will and leadership in establishing a Commission of Inquiry through a UNGA resolution. As far as ASEAN is concerned, it is only sensible for it to stop being complicit in prolonging impunity in Burma, since it has been dealing with the regional consequences of international crimes committed there. Once established, a Commission of Inquiry and Burma’s cooperation with it will assist ASEAN in determining whether Burma is  appropriately qualified to chair ASEAN, and in evaluating Burma’s commitment to democracy.

FIDH, LDH, Altsean-Burma, Info-Birmanie and BLC would like to stress that after 23 years of brutal repression and crimes against its own people, the Burmese government and its military continue to attack, kill, and rape with total impunity, as witnessed in the recent offensives against ethnic areas in Shan, Kachin, and Karen States. Our organizations therefore intend to echo, as expressed by all our Burmese partner organizations, the wish of the people of Burma to see that the democratic aspirations with which they annually mark the 8 August anniversary will be matched by resolute action of the international community to create a Commission of Inquiry as a first step towards ending impunity, so that one day they will be able to celebrate this date in genuine peace and freedom.

Thank you for your consideration of our concerns and recommendations. We are at your disposal should you have any questions.

Sincerely yours,

Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH

Pierre Tartakowsky, President of LDH

Frédéric Debomy, President of Info-Birmanie

Debbie Stothard, Coordinator of Altsean-Burma, Deputy Secretary-General of FIDH

U Thein Oo, Chairman of BLC


Focal points

Human Rights International Treaties
ILO Conventions
C 87 C 98 C 105 C 100 C 111C 138 C 182
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