EU Burma Response: Too Little Too Late

February 26th, 2018  •  Author:   Burma Campaign UK  •  5 minute read

Burma Campaign UK today described new restrictive measures announced by the EU in response to human rights violations in Burma as too little too late, and unlikely to have any significant impact on General Min Aung Hlaing or the government of Burma.

“These measures are barely even a slap on the wrist, let alone a serious blow to the military,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “Has the EU done everything it can? Not even close. These measures are not an adequate or proportionate response given the scale and seriousness of violations of international law taking place.”

The call by EU Foreign Ministers for the High Representative to make proposals for targeted restrictive measures against senior military officers responsible for serious human rights violations, a full six months after this crisis began, does not go nearly far enough.  All senior military officers should be targeted by a range of restrictive measures, including financial sanctions and visa bans. All military personnel should be banned from entering the EU. The EU should ban EU companies from engaging in any form of business with military owned and controlled companies, and these sanctions should be retrospective, ending any existing business arrangements.

Burma Campaign UK welcomes the call by the EU for Burma to become party to the Rome Statute, something the EU has previously refused to do. However, although the call by the EU for Burma to refer itself to the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a welcome step in the right direction, the EU knows full well that the chances of Burma doing so are vanishingly remote. Having implicitly agreed that the situation in Burma should be taken to the ICC, the EU should instead be working to build international consensus for a referral to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council.

The decision by the EU to ask the High Representative for proposals on strengthening the embargo on arms and equipment, rather than banning the sale of all equipment to the military, is worrying. It raises concerns that some EU member states want to continue to exploit loopholes and variations in interpretations of what constitutes arms and equipment used for repression, and continue to supply the military. The EU should immediately ban the sale of all equipment to the military, and end all service and supply contracts for equipment already purchased.

The EU is strengthening its own arms embargo but has still failed to support and work for the imposition of a UN mandated global arms embargo. The EU should be seeking other countries around the world to join it in imposing arms embargoes.

The announcement by the EU that all defence co-operation ‘will be reduced to a strict minimum with the sole purpose of strengthening democratic principles, the respect of human rights and the rule of law’ is in effect a non-measure. EU member states have already been making this argument in defence of training and co-operation programmes. All defence co-operation should be ended and instead a policy of critical engagement adopted.

Burma Campaign UK welcomes the inclusion of the situation of human rights in Kachin and Shan States. Violations of international law are also taking place in these states and those responsible must be held to account. It is also time for the EU to acknowledge that the government of Burma, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, is not one which respects human rights, and adjust its policies accordingly. The EU should have called for the release of all political prisoners and do more to pressure Aung San Suu Kyi, the ultimate decision maker, to agree to release them.

Burma Campaign UK supports economic, political and legal sanctions against the military and government in Burma, but urges the EU not to impose general sanctions which will impact more on the general population than on those military and government officials responsible for human rights violations. There are a great many measures the EU can take before considering such steps.

In evidence last year to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament, Burma Campaign UK detailed how the EU has been complicit in allowing human rights violations against the Rohingya to escalate:

Its weak response to the crisis now is a continuation of that failed approach.

The EU appears to be starting off down the same path of incrementally increasing sanctions which it began after the crushing of the uprising in 1988, before lifting most sanctions in 2013. This incremental approach was not effective then and will not be effective now. Everything that can be done should be done. There is no good reason for delaying and gradually implementing more sanctions over a period of many years, thereby reducing their impact.

“In government and military offices in the capital, Naypyidaw, officials will be breathing a sigh of relief at how weak the EU response is,” said Mark Farmaner. “On the face of it, it appears like the EU is taking action, but in reality you couldn’t even call these half measures. These sanctions are not nearly enough to discourage the military from committing further abuses.”

Read the EU Council conclusions here.