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British government announces support in principle for ICC referral of Burma

September 26th, 2022  •  Author:   Burma Campaign UK  •  3 minute read
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Burma Campaign UK today welcomed the British government’s announcement of its support in principle for a referral of Burma to the International Criminal Court, ICC. The announcement comes just weeks after the US made a similar announcement.  Burma Campaign UK has been calling on the British government to support an ICC referral for almost 20 years.

In an answer to a written Parliamentary question from Rushanara Ali MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy in Burma, Foreign Office Minister Jesse Norman MP stated:

“The UK is clear that there must be accountability for the atrocities committed in Myanmar. We condemn the continuing grave human rights violations by the Myanmar Armed Forces, as well as historic atrocities against the Rohingya. The UK is supportive, in principle, of any attempts to bring these issues before the International Criminal Court (ICC) where they can be scrutinised.”

This language is a significant change from their previous position. For years the British government refused to say that it supported in principle a referral of Burma to the ICC. They hid behind a likely veto by Russia and China at the UN Security Council as an excuse to not declare their position at all, helping to extend the sense of impunity enjoyed by the Burmese military.

“This is a significant and welcome step by the British government, building on their recent announcement that they would join the Rohingya genocide case at the International Court of Justice,” said Karin Valtersson, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK.

The Parliamentary answer goes on to state:

“However, with regards to a referral by the UN Security Council, our assessment remains that there is insufficient support amongst Security Council members for a referral at this time. It will not advance the cause of accountability for an ICC referral to fail to win Security Council support or to be vetoed; such a result would only give comfort to the Myanmar Armed Forces and reduce the pressure they currently face.”

The current membership of the UN Security Council includes Russia, China and India, which are still arming the Burmese military, and Brazil, which is also unlikely to support an ICC referral.

This is the second declaration by the British government on justice and accountability on Burma in the past month. On Thursday 25 August the government declared its intention to join the Rohingya genocide case at the International Court of Justice. The British government has also led the way internationally on sanctioning sources of revenue and arms to the Burmese military since the attempted coup began in February 2021.

“For decades the Burmese military have been allowed to get away with violating international law”, said Karin Valtersson. “Action to end impunity sooner could have helped prevent atrocities happening today.”

The Parliamentary question is on the Parliament website here.

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