The EU lifts sanctions against Burma: what about the ethnic nationals?

April 25th, 2013

The EU lifts sanctions against Burma: what about the ethnic nationals?


EU Sanctions against Burma and the plight of the ethnic nationals

On June 9th 2011, the Burmese army broke a 17 year ceasefire agreement in Kachin state, Burma. Since then, civilians have been the targets of various human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, rape, abduction and torture. Over 75,000 Kachin civilians have been displaced from their homes; more than 360 villages have been deserted, with many been burnt and destroyed.

Many of these displaced peoples are living in the 17 refugee camps situated in the area controlled by the Kachin Independance Organisation (KIO) along the Sino-Burma border. The Kachin have done admirable work in organising local organisations to support these camps, but the necessary resources are just not available. They need international support.  The Burmese government is not allowing humanitarian access to the area, breaking agreements made to allow access by UN convoys. Conditions in the camps are worsening and problems with human trafficking, labour exploitation, water and sanitation, healthcare and malnutrition are increasing. Other groups, such as the Rohingya, Shan, Karren and Karreni, are suffering similar abuses.

Meanwhile European Union members lift trade sanctions on Burma.

Last year in response to what has been seen as a process of democratic reform in Burma, the EU temporarily suspended all sanctions on Burma, other than the sale of arms.  This was intended as a means to encourage further reform. On Monday (22/04/13) EU Members announced that ‘In response to the changes that have taken place and in the expectation that they will continue, the Council has decided to lift all sanctions with the exception of the embargo on arms which will remain in place.’  You can read the council conclusions by following this link: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/136918.pdf

The EU hopes that trade and investment will encourage development in Burma and that improved international relationships will encourage further democratic reform.

Companies considering involvement in Burma will face issues such as ascertaining who the land is owned by or who has usage rights, obtaining free, prior and informed consent, and ensuring consultation took place without the use of force. They will need to ensure labour rights, responsible business relationships and that ethnic national groups are not adversely effected by projects. Despite these challenges the EU are optimistic that, whilst exploring trade and investment opportunities, European companies will be ‘promoting the practice of the highest standards of integrity and corporate social responsibility’, encouraging change by their example.

One can’t help but wonder if a little too much faith is being placed in both the Burmese government intentions and the responsibility of potential investors. It is feared that foreign investment could be used to by the Burmese government against the ethnic nationals. 60% of Burma’s resource rich land is in ethnic national states. These resources are often exploited at the cost of the ethnic nationals, whether through the destruction of their land and livelihoods, confiscation of land with no compensation, or forced labour. Irresponsible foreign investment could cause these abuses to escalate.

When the EU sanctions against Burma were lifted temporarily in April 2012 the EU set certain benchmarks:

“…the EU still expects the unconditional release of remaining political prisoners and the removal of all restrictions placed on those already released. It looks forward to the end of conflict and to substantially improved access for humanitarian assistance, in particular for those affected by conflict in Kachin State and along the Eastern border, as well as to addressing the status and improving the welfare of the Rohingyas.”

None of these benchmarks have been met. Though some political prisoners have been released, many remain in prison; conflict has increased, particularly in Kachin state; in 2012 the UN General Assembly ruled that Burmese restrictions on humanitarian access violate international law and conditions for the Rohingya have worsened in the last year.  These benchmarks represent just a fraction of the humanitarian issues facing Burma’s peoples.

Trade sanctions should not be lifted in response to a ‘process of reform’ which allows for the continued abuse of, what is estimated to be at least, 40% of Burma’s population. This decision has come as a disappointment to NGOs and ethnic national groups alike. Until hearing this news much of the Kachin’s hope rested on the international community:

Now very heavily armed Burmese troops are taking place at our feet…As we are spiritually, mentally and emotionally wounded and brokened, please come and rescue, help, heal and educate us.’

Now, understandably, they feel as though they have been abandoned.

Unhappy with the EU’s decision?  You can help by writing to your MP or Member of European Parliament (MEP), expressing you disappointment and asking that they use their position to press for unhindered humanitarian access, the support of ethnic national’s human rights and responsible investment. Templates can be accessed by following this link http://www.hart-uk.org/hart.php?page=755. You can find out who your representatives are and contact them through: http://www.writetothem.com/

Megan Rowland

By Megan Rowland

Megan is currently volunteering as our Advocacy and Communications Assistant.

< All Blog Posts
Twitter Facebook Instagram YouTube LinkedIn