Monday

24th Sep 2018

EU wary of US idea for UN action on Burma

EU states are wary of a US suggestion to push for speedy action on Burma at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), with the UK saying the move is premature and Finland saying it is unrealistic and may not add value to existing international measures.

Washington over the weekend requested through informal channels that the UNHRC holds a week-long "special session" on Burma in early April. The move could lead to a resolution mandating a "commission of enquiry" to visit the country and propose future action.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

UN commissions of enquiry are typically made up of senior ex-judges or politicians and reserved for grievous humanitarian problems, with one previous UN commission to Cambodia leading to the establishment of the Khmer Rouge court in May 2006.

Burma - home to 50 million people - is rich in gas, oil and gems but its military junta rules a country where 40 percent of children are malnourished, ethnic minorities undergo forced labour and at least 1,100 political prisoners face torture, according to Amnesty International.

The EU has historically taken a tough line on Rangoon: it is planning to renew a basket of arms, trade and visa-related sanctions against the regime when the issue comes up for review in May. Opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is still seen as a hero in Brussels.

At the same time, the EU is looking for new ways to handle the junta. The then Finnish EU presidency last year let the Burmese foreign minister attend an EU-Asia summit in Helsinki in a meeting that produced only "rhetoric" on human rights and sparked protests from Burmese exile groups.

EU diplomats say the European discussion on any fresh UN moves is just beginning, with the seven EU states in the UNHRC - Finland, the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania - voting in Geneva en bloc on the basis of a common position established at EU27-level in Brussels.

But early signs are not positive for the US idea, with the UK - a former colonial power in Burma - saying a resolution will probably have to wait until the recently-established UNHRC completes its institution-building phase at an unspecified time later this year.

"The UK with its EU partners is ready to support any reasonable and effective proposal for the situation in Burma at the human rights council," a UK foreign office spokeswoman said. "But it's still very early days [for the UNHRC]."

Finland is even more negative, saying an EU-tabled resolution would probably not secure the 16 votes required to get through the 47-strong UNHRC body and that Europe should wait until something drastic happens in Burma before going ahead.

"A special session is meant to deal with urgent and acute situations, so it would be easier to argue for a special session if something dramatic happens, which of course nobody would wish for," one senior Finnish diplomat said.

"The third committee resolution [a UN General Assembly resolution on Burma in November 2006] is quite good and it is at a higher level than the UNHRC. So I am not sure what value a UNHRC resolution could add to this," another Finnish diplomat added.

Meanwhile, Germany, France and the Netherlands are playing wait-and-see for now. "There is obviously a human rights question that has to be addressed. We cannot be silent, but we are still studying this," a Dutch diplomat said.

The EU is worried about "alienating" swing voters in the UNHRC and the UK is wary of openly backing the US in case it looks like "an Anglo-Saxon conspiracy against Burma" Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia director Brad Adams told EUobserver after briefing EU experts in Brussels last week.

"There is an absolute international vacuum on Burma for now...[and] there will be no action at the [UN] council unless the EU pushes for it," Mr Adams said. "The EU should put forward a resolution not just for its own sake, but something with real teeth to it."

UNHRC faces baptism of fire

The UNHRC was set up in March 2006 to replace the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which had faced criticism for focusing too much on Middle East issues and for letting member countries with flawed human rights situations at home seize control of the agenda.

The US, despite its informal Burma proposal, has levelled similar criticism at the UNHRC, which since March has seen Islamic countries push through four "special sessions" on Israeli human rights abuses and which sees Burma's strategic ally, China, control significant voting power.

The US boycotted the UNHRC last March in a move described as "stupid" by HRW's Mr Adams, but the NGO also has doubts about the institution's credibility. "If the human rights council can't handle a case like Burma then what is it for?" he asked.

UN officials are already in defensive mode over the Israeli-heavy agenda. "It's easy to criticise, but it's premature," one contact said, adding "I wouldn't rule it out, but I think it's unlikely" on the chances of an UNHRC Burma special session.

Burma to overshadow EU-ASEAN talks in Germany

EU foreign ministers will sit down next to their southeast Asian counterparts at a two-day meeting on Wednesday in Nuremburg, hoping to sketch out a free-trade deal between the two regions with Burma's military junta overshadowing talks.

EU wants continental free-trade deal with Africa

Earlier this week, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in his state of the union announced a new relationship with Africa. On Friday, his subordinates outlined the vision, promising jobs and growth by leveraging public funds for investments.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  2. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  3. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  4. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  5. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  6. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  7. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says
  8. Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us