Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Opinion

How to reset EU-Burma relations

  • Nearly 700,000 survivors have fled to Bangladesh (Photo: Lost Hope)

It's been over six months since the Tatmadaw, Burma's security forces, launched their onslaught against the Rohingya. Nearly 700,000 survivors have fled to Bangladesh to escape mass killing, rape, torture, and arson.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, among many others, strongly suspects the violence amounts to genocide. The crisis is far from over.

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

My organisation, the Burma Human Rights Network, has been reporting on the violence against the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities. The authorities continue to drive the Rohingya out through attacks and forced starvation, while destroying what remains of their villages to erase the minority's existence and evidence of the Tatmadaw's crimes.

I recently travelled to Brussels to brief European officials on the need for a more robust response. EU foreign ministers met on 26 February and agreed to utilize the tools at their disposal to effect the calculations of Burma's leaders.

This was the right step but now it is important to turn the intent of the EU foreign ministers into concrete action to protect lives on the ground, ensure unfettered aid access, and set the framework for a genuine political solution.

The first step in the EU's response should be to impose effective and targeted sanctions against Burma's senior military leaders. Numerous verified accounts have demonstrated that the military's onslaught against the Rohingya has been premeditated, widespread and systematic. This approach points to a military strategy that stems from the top leadership, including senior general Min Aung Hlaing.

Third largest investor in Burma

Beyond symbolic measures such as travel bans or asset freezes, the EU needs to focus on the military's economic interests, as well as those of their business cronies.

Sanctions should target military-affiliated funds, shares or investments which are processed through European financial institutions. Here, the EU should work with civil society to help gather information and identify financial targets.

Trade is another area where the EU can use its tools. The EU is the third largest investor in Burma and offers favourable trading terms through the 'Everything But Arms' programme.

Foreign ministers made clear that EU trade preferences are linked to adherence to human rights. Given the gravity of the crimes, the EU and its various institutions should examine how trade can be a vehicle for both leverage and benefits to bring an end to the Burmese authorities' violations.

In the face of one of the worst massacres of the 21st century, the EU must also aggressively pursue justice. We welcome the EU's support for Burma to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and are encouraged by the ICC prosecutor's request to seek jurisdiction over Rohingya deportations to Bangladesh.

Of course in reality the prospects of ICC referral by the Security Council remain bleak. But this does not mean there are no alternative routes to pursue accountability.

Sanctions, trade and justice measures

The collection of evidence for future due process is crucial. The EU has significant expertise in human rights and should seek to support civil society groups and human rights defenders on the ground with their work.

In parallel the EU needs to support the recommendation from the High Commissioner for Human Rights that the UN General Assembly establish a mechanism tasked with preparing criminal indictments of the crimes in Burma. Similar mechanisms have been established in other conflicts when the ICC route has been blocked.

Finally, we must pursue universal jurisdiction cases against Burmese leaders. A team of lawyers in Australia recently filed a prosecution application against state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, coinciding with her visit to Sydney for the ASEAN summit.

The effort serves as a reminder to the Burmese authorities that the threat of justice will follow them around the world. The EU should support legal teams building universal jurisdiction cases and encourage such cases in European courts.

Sanctions, trade and justice measures are important means to signal the EU's condemnation of the violence against the Rohingya. But we also need to work collectively to seek solutions to the root causes of the crisis.

To this end, the EU has endorsed the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which called on the Burmese government to take steps to end communal discord and discrimination. Among its recommendations, it advised the government to end enforced segregation; ensure freedom of movement; and "revisit" the 1982 Citizenship Law, which rendered the Rohingya stateless.

The EU has called for time-bound implementation of the recommendations. The EU should go a step further and define a calendar of benchmarks.

An opportunity to play a vigorous role

These benchmarks could focus on tangible steps that demonstrate the government's willingness to respect and protect all communities. It's imperative the process include consultation with the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities who have been systematically denied their voice.

As I told officials in Brussels, the EU's increasingly active role in the Rohingya crisis is commendable. The EU has an opportunity to play a vigorous role to end the crisis and support the foundations for genuine democratic progress.

This is why I believe the EU needs to reset its relations with Burma to pre-2012 levels, before Burma was rewarded for its democratic efforts. This reset would wipe away aid and trade benefits. In turn, successful implementation of benchmarks, such as those already being discussed, could be tied to the reinstatement of benefits.

Given the gravity of the crisis on the ground, only a comprehensive and robust approach offers a sustainable solution, serving both the Burmese people and European strategic interests in the region.

Kyaw Win is executive director of the Burma Human Rights Network

EU can still end Rohingya ethnic cleansing

If European leaders speak and act now, there's a chance ethnic cleansing could end before the last Burmese Rohingya is killed, captured, or exiled.

Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Jan Zahradil, EU Commission president Spitzenkandidat for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, responds to Emmaneul Macron's European vision ahead of the May elections.

A compromise proposal for the Article 50 extension

At this week's summit, EU leaders should extend Article 50 until the May European elections. But they should postpone the effective date of the UK's withdrawal from EU rights, rules, and regulations for another year - to May 2020.

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

My plan for defending rule of law in EU

EPP leader and prospective next EU Commission president Manfred Weber spells out his plan for dealing with recalcitrant EU member states - ahead of Wednesday's EPP meeting on the vexed issue of Hungary's Viktor Orban and Fidesz.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us