Spotlight: EU conclusions on the situation in Burma

March 2nd, 2018

Spotlight: EU conclusions on the situation in Burma

Welcome to our new series titled Spotlight, which gives our readers a quick news update focusing on developments that affect the countries where HART works. This week, we’re taking a look at the recent EU adoptions aimed at resolving the Human Rights Violations in Burma. 

Rohingya people in Bangladesh living in refugee camps after fleeing from the violence in Rakhine State (UNHCR)

On the 26th February, the EU Foreign Affairs Council addressed the ongoing Human Rights violations in Burma, particularly in Rakhine State. The council condemned the endemic systematic military operations against the ethnic Rohingya that have been described by UN officials as a ‘textbook example’ of ethnic cleansing with ‘hallmarks of genocide’. The Council called for accountability and conditions for voluntary safe return of the displaced.

The council made two proposals for the High Representative to support:

1/ An extension of the existing arms embargo on equipment used for internal repression and options for its strengthening

2/Targeted restrictive measures against senior military officers of the Burmese Military who are primarily responsible for the human rights violations

Will these actions resolve the crisis in Burma? The answer, probably not. The EU’s response is not comparable to the large scale of attacks and violence that has escalated in the past 6 months, forcing 688,000 refugees from Rakhine state to neighbouring Bangladesh, nor the 100,000+ IDP’s seeking refuge in camps along the Thai-Burma border from Kachin and Shan States. So why doesn’t this call for action work? Let’s break down the points.

1/The wording for the extension of the embargo leaves open the interpretation of what constitutes arms for repression, thus allowing continued sales to the Burmese Military, as noted by Burma Campaign UK. However, calling for a complete and total ban of all weaponry and equipment to the Military would clearly demonstrate the EU’s commitment to ceasing further violence by stifling Military prowess, as well as blocking any possibility of exploitation by EU actors.

2/Restrictive measures should be applied to all senior military personnel for orchestrating Human Rights violations against civilians. Burma Campaign UK advocates for financial sanctions and visa bans as well, especially banning entry from the EU. This should extend to any interests that may be held within the borders of the EU, including (but not limited to) existing and future business interests.

While the EU have sought to address concerns of accountability and safe return, this cannot be achieved without an indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Rushanara Ali MP spearheaded a letter co-signed by 102 Parliamentarians (including HART founder Baroness Cox) on the 21st February calling for the UK Government to ‘unequivocally’ support a call for the UN Security Council to refer Burma to the ICC. This would mean that Burma, under the Rome Statute, can be prosecuted for crimes that they are unwilling or unable to investigate themselves. However, the EU have called upon Burma to refer itself to the ICC which seems to tick a box on the global stage for demanding accountability, but in truth does nothing – the chances of Burma actually complying is incredibly unlikely.

Nonetheless, let’s hope that EU member states are equally outraged as we are at HART about the ongoing crisis, and make significant strides towards justice for the Rohingya and the people of Shan and Kachin States.

Sabeeha Lakha

By Sabeeha Lakha

Sabeeha is a Research and Campaigns Intern at HART. Following the successful completion of her Postgraduate degree in Near and Middle Eastern Studies, she worked as an intern at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). She is motivated to build a career in advocacy for Human Rights and Refugee issues.


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