3rd Aug 2020

NGO warns of Burma abuses amid EU praise

EU foreign ministers have agreed to ease sanctions on Burma following the junta's recent moves towards democracy. But a report by Human Rights Watch published the same day warns of continued abuse.

The ministers's communique welcomed "the remarkable programme of political reform" and specified that, "as a first step, restrictive measures [such as visa bans] concerning the president, the vice-Presidents, cabinet members and the speakers of the two houses of parliament should be suspended."

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They said further reform "would lead to the further easing or lifting of the restrictive measures" to be decided by the end of April.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton noted that the "remarkable transition" in Burma had led her to conduct "a full review" of her policy towards the country. She said she is planning to travel to Rangoon in April, after what could be the country's first free elections since a military coup stifled democracy in 1962.

The EU sanctions involve asset freezes and travel restrictions on just a few short of 500 individuals and twice as many companies and institutions. They also involve an arms embargo and specific trade bans.

The decision to ease the curbs comes after the election of a civilian government in March last year, even though it is largely comprised of ex-military personell. Burma recently also released an estimated 1,000 political prisoners, engaged in peace talks with ethnic insurgents and allowed the opposition NLD, led by dissident Ang San Suu Kyi, to register as a political party.

But as remarkable as the reforms may sound, they have "failed to seriously address the still dire human rights situation in the country" according to Human Rights Watch in its latest World Report.

Over the course of 2011, "there was no measurable decline in serious abuses," the New-York-based NGO's Elaine Pearson said.

Alongside the prisoner releases "Burma continued to imprison hundreds for peaceful acts of free expression" the report notes.

The Burmese military - it says - "continues to violate international humanitarian law through the use of extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual violence, beatings, abusive forced labor, antipersonnel landmines, and pillaging of property."


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