19th Jun 2019

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.

News in Brief

  1. New socialist group leader to push for Timmermans
  2. Romanian ex-PM frontrunner to head new liberal group
  3. France, Germany and Spain in fighter jet deal
  4. Tusk grilled in Poland over role as PM
  5. Italy is 'most credible' US partner in EU, says Salvini
  6. EU blames Sudan junta for killings and rapes
  7. Report: EU may suspend Turkey customs union talks
  8. Swiss stock exchange could lose EU access in July


EU should stop an insane US-Iran war

"If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!", US president Donald Trump tweeted on Monday (20 May).

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. EU urges Swiss to move on talks or face sanction
  2. Frontex transparency dispute goes to EU court
  3. Commission goes easy on scant national climate plans
  4. Macron and Mogherini decline to back US accusation on Iran
  5. EU summit must give effective answer on migration
  6. Spain's Garcia set to be next Socialist leader in parliament
  7. Erdogan mocks Macron amid EU sanctions threat
  8. The most dangerous pesticide you've never heard of

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us