As the European Union (EU) approaches the renewal of the Common Position on Burma in April, members of the European Burma Network (EBN) are calling on the EU to strengthen its commitment to human rights in Burma.
Mass atrocity crimes have been committed against the Rohingya and other minorities across the country. Armed conflicts continue to severely impact the lives of civilians, especially in ethnic-minority areas. Humanitarian access to conflict-affected communities is restricted. Repressive laws that restrict free expression, freedom of assembly, and limit people’s ability to participate in democratic processes are being used to silence critical voices. Journalists, human rights activists, and others who speak out face charges and imprisonment under legislation that the incumbent NLD-led government has refused to reform, despite the power to do so. The EU must prioritise the release of political prisoners and urge the Burmese government to reform repressive legislation in line with international standards.
The peace process is failing to produce tangible results. The peace architecture has proven incapable of addressing the long-standing grievances of conflict-affected communities; it fails to tackle the root causes of conflict and discuss viable political solutions. Yet the EU continues to pump money into the government-led peace process. An independent evaluation of EU funding to the peace process should be conducted before further funding is thrown into this black hole.
The 2020 elections, expected to be held towards the end of the year, come at a critical time. In its own election follow-up mission in 2019, the EU concluded that little progress had been made since the 2015 elections. Only two of the 50 recommendations made by the 2015 EU election monitoring mission had been fully implemented as of April 2019. Large groups of potential voters were unable to participate in the 2015 elections, and the risk of substantial voter disenfranchisement remains high as the 2020 election draws nearer. The Rohingya are unlikely to be allowed to participate and voting might be cancelled in conflict-affected areas. The EU must stress the importance of inclusive elections and should not lend its legitimacy to the electoral process if potential voters are prevented from participating in the democratic process. EU support should therefore be directed towards civil society organisations, free media and election monitoring.
It is deeply troubling that the EU does not consistently use the word Rohingya when talking about the Rohingya. In a recent response to the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on provisional measures, the EU issued a statement in Brussels using the word Rohingya. However, in a local statement issued by the EU delegation in Yangon, the word Rohingya was left out. This supports the Burmese government’s repressive policy of denying the Rohingya their right to an identity.
In light of the findings and recommendations of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Burma (FFM) on the vast economic interests of the Burmese military, the EU should impose restrictions on dealings with military-owned and controlled companies. The FFM has recommended that all financial and other support to the military be cut off, as the revenue the military earns from its businesses “substantially enhances its ability to carry out gross human rights violations with impunity.” The embassies of some European countries have instructed their partner organisations in Burma to report on their dealings with military-owned or controlled companies. This is a positive measure that could be replicated. The EU should instruct its member states to call on their partners to terminate all business relationships with military-owned or controlled companies. In addition to this, the EU should enact targeted financial sanctions against military-owned and controlled companies, e.g. by placing such entities on the restrictive measures list.
In light of the above, we call on the European Union to:
Burma Campaign UK
Burma Human Rights Network
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Civil Rights Defenders
Swedish Burma Committee
Swiss Burma Association
Progressive Voice (EBN observer)