7th May 2016

Burma President in Brussels to lobby against sanctions

  • Rohingya Muslims in Burma are ranked as among the world's most persecuted by the UN (Photo: Austcare)

Burma’s president Thein Sein is in Brussels on Tuesday (5 March) to convince EU leaders to drop sanctions despite allegations of ongoing human rights violations and escalating sectarian violence.

The EU suspended sanctions in April last year after the former military commander initiated reforms, widely praised by the West.

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Sein told journalists in Vienna on Monday that the sanctions should now be dropped altogether.

“What we lack is capital and modern technologies ... all these are because of the economic sanctions for the last 20 years,” said Sein, reports AFP.

He is scheduled to argue his case on Tuesday when he meets top EU officials, including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European parliament head Martin Schulz, EU Council chief Herman van Rompuy and EU foreign policy director Catherine Asthon.

Rights groups, such as the New-York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) are urging member states not to overlook a number of issues however, including Sein’s pledge to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to set up an office in the once isolated country.

“They [EU leaders ] should of course encourage President Thein Sein’s reforms, but also press him to address the hard reality of serious ongoing human rights violations in Burma,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at HRW, in a statement.

The decades of persecution and human rights abuse by the former military junta have not ended completely.

The government is accused of indiscriminate shelling and killing scores of civilians in the Kachin state in its efforts to wipe out the Kachin independence movement.

Summary executions, rape, the use of child soldiers, unlawful forced labor and looting are among other charges brought by NGOs.

Ashton in mid-January voiced concern over the fighting, noting the “shelling of Laiza and the resulting deaths of innocent civilians are particularly troubling.”

But Sein says they have since brokered a peace deal and that “all our nationalities are living together side by side and they are living in harmony and peace."

Other problems also remain.

HRW says the government continues to use coercive tactics to crack down on peaceful protests in the country’s capital and surrounding towns.

The Rohingya Muslim minority, numbering around 800,000 people, remains on the margins of society as the government refuses to grant them citizenship.

Sein has said his government does not intend to revise the 1982 citizenship law, whose provisions are used to deny rights to most Rohingya.

The United Nations ranks the group as among the world’s most persecuted.

“The EU is not genuinely assisting Burma’s transition - and, more importantly, its people - if it settles for feel-good platitudes,” said Leicht.

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