23rd Apr 2019

EU assembly seeks criminal trial for Burmese junta

The European Parliament has suggested the Burmese junta should face international charges for crimes against humanity if generals continue to block foreign aid workers from distributing food and medicine to the 2.5 million people affected by a cyclone earlier this month.

In a resolution adopted on Thursday (22 May), the parliament said it "strongly condemns the unacceptably slow response to this grave humanitarian crisis by the Burmese authorities, which have put preservation of their own power before the survival of their citizens."

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  • Around 2.5 million Burmese have been affected by the cyclone and are dependent on aid to survive (Photo: Nasa)

If Rangoon keeps "preventing aid from reaching those in danger, they should be held accountable for crimes against humanity before the ICC [International Criminal Court]," MEPs said, calling on EU member states to press for a UN resolution referring the case to the Hague-based court.

In a debate preceding the resolution, several deputies also brought up the possibility of bringing aid to the country despite opposition by the Burmese leadership, an option previously mooted by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

But the idea was put aside at an emergency meeting of EU development aid ministers last week, with some arguing the international community needs to cooperate with local authorities to be effective.

The EU legislature has echoed concerns by numerous humanitarian groups about "the urgent nature of the assistance" to be delivered to the most badly affected areas, as weather conditions are getting worse due to the Monsoon season.

The resolution was adopted just as UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon visited a relief camp in the Irrawaddy Delta, although some UN workers privately called it a "show camp," according to BBC.

Earlier that day, Burma's prime minister Thein Sein reportedly told Mr Ban that the country's government is already focusing on reconstruction as the relief phase of the aid operation was over, an assertion in strong contrast to reports from foreign aid groups.

Mr Ban was in Burma to ask the top military leader, Gen Than Shwe, to allow foreign aid workers access to the worst hit zones.

Insiders suggest that the sheer fact their meeting took place was a good sign, as the general previously had not answered Mr Ban's telephone calls and letters.

At least 78,000 people have died as a result of the cyclone on 2 May, with 56,000 still missing. UN experts estimate that only a quarter of the 2.5 million Burmese most affected by the cyclone have received the help they need.

The Burmese junta has so far let in the first of ten helicopters to be sent by the UN's World Food Programme but US, British and French naval vessels are still waiting off the Irrawaddy Delta with no permission to access the area.

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