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For too many years, while the scale and severity of the violations in Burma have required sustained effort by the international community, the world has done little to address these human rights abuses. UN Special Envoys and UN Special Rapporteurs have travelled to Burma over 40 times to discuss democratisation and human rights. Over and over again, UN resolutions and Special Rapporteurs have spoken out about the abuse in Burma. Furthermore, UN bodies have consistently acknowledged severe human rights violations and used legal terms that associate them with international crimes, including ‘widespread’, ‘systematic’, and ‘part of a state policy’. Despite the recognition of the existence of these violations by many UN organs for over a period of 15 years, the Security Council has failed to act to ensure accountability and justice (IHRC, 2012). The perpetrators in Burma continue to avoid both. For more information on international crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma, see War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.

The annually released UN resolution calling on the Burmese government to respect human rights has meant little to the local people, many of whom have lost hope for the UN to help the people of Burma:

“The UN can’t do anything… Ban Ki Moon didn’t even meet our general. He (Ban Ki Moon) is in the most powerful position in the world! Gambari came many times but nothing happened; it is useless!” (Young Arakanese man from Rangoon;, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, 2010, p. 188)

In order to address deep-seated mistrust and grievances in Burma, the perpetrators must be held accountable, and victims must be able to seek redress. The UN Security Council should declare that the situation in Burma constitutes a threat to international peace and security and initiate a formal investigation through a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate international crimes committed in Burma, and then act upon the findings and recommendations made by such a Commission. The UN Security Council has, however, repeatedly failed to move the process forward as it has done in similar situations elsewhere, such as in the former Yugoslavia and Darfur. Despite the UN being aware of the widespread and systematic nature of the violations in Burma, there has been no such action. In 2007, the UN Security Council failed to adopt a draft resolution on Burma, owing to negative votes by China and Russia (United Nations Security Council Press Release, 2007).

Long struggle

Millions of people have fled Burma. (Photo: Liz Bordo)

A number of organisations and governments have called for a CoI to investigate alleged international crimes in Burma. In March 2010, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

[Burma], Tomás Ojea Quintana , called on the UN to “consider the possibility to establish a commission of inquiry with a specific fact-finding mandate to address the question of international crimes” (the Special Rapporteur in March 2010; UN General Assembly, 2010, p. 21). 16 countries have publicly called for a CoI: Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (Human Rights Watch, 2011). Organisations calling for CoI in Burma include, amongst others, Human Rights Watch, KHRG, KWO, FIDH, ALTSEAN-Burma, BLC, and IHRC.

According to IHRC: “In light of more than fifteen years of condemnation from UN bodies for human rights abuses in Burma, the Security Council should institute a Commission of Inquiry to investigate grave crimes that have been committed in the country” (IHRC, 2012, p. 2).

Despite some positive developments that have taken place in Burma since the reforms started in 2011, Ms. Yanghee Lee, the current Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar [Burma] warned in July 2014 that “there are worrying signs of possible backtracking which if unchecked could undermine Myanmar’s efforts to become a responsible member of the international community that respects and protects human rights” (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, July, 2014).

When national authorities are the primary perpetrators of violence and abuse, the international community has often been reluctant to interfere in ‘domestic affairs’ of sovereign nations. History has shown, however, how these types of abuses can result in some of the gravest human rights violations coupled with inefficient response, as was the case in the genocides in Rwanda in 1994 and in the Balkans in 1995, as well as in the crimes against humanity in Kosovo in 1999. Universal justice should arguably ensure that no one can abuse human rights with impunity. The people of Burma deserve international protection, justice and accountability.

Updated October 28, 2014

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