Human Rights Watch Letter to the Foreign Ministers of the G8 on Initiating a Formal Discussion on Burma

March 25, 2010 Dear Foreign Ministers of the G8, We write to you regarding the serious situation of human rights in Burma. We urge that you include Burma in this year's formal discussion at the forthcoming G8 Summit in Toronto in June 2010. The G8 has a unique and timely opportunity to exert pressure on Burma's military government ahead of the elections planned in 2010. As you know, Burma remains one of the most repressive countries in the world. There are strict limits on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. The intelligence and security services are omnipresent. Censorship is draconian. There is little freedom of the media, with an all-powerful Press Scrutiny Board censoring any impartial or independent analysis of the political system. The Burmese judiciary is not independent, and acts as an arm of government repression. More than 2,100 political prisoners suffer in Burma's squalid prisons. These prisoners include many members of the political opposition, monks, nuns, journalists, and activists who face torture and ill-treatment in prison. At the same time, military abuses connected to armed conflicts in ethnic minority areas continue. Human Rights Watch believes that high-profile attention from the G8 will be an effective way to pressure the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to respect the rights of its citizens. We call on you to support stronger action on two important developments concerning Burma: the formation of a United Nations commission of inquiry into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma, and increased international pressure on the SPDC to conduct open, free and fair elections in 2010. We also call on the leaders of the G8 to pursue a more coordinated approach to the imposition and calibration of targeted financial sanctions against the military leadership and its close business associates, and to the pursuit at the UN Security Council of an arms embargo on Burma. Commission of Inquiry

We call your attention to the report of the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, delivered to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 8. The report noted the "gross and systematic nature of human rights violations" and a "lack of accountability" to which "UN institutions may consider the possibility to establish a commission of inquiry with a specific fact finding mandate to address the question of international crimes." This is an important new development that should be addressed by the G8. The G8 should support the United Nations in establishing this commission without delay as a vital first step towards justice for thousands of victims of serious crimes in violation of international law in Burma. The United Nations has long documented patterns of systematic and widespread human rights abuses that are committed with impunity in Burma. These abuses amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes and are thus subject to universal jurisdiction. They include widespread forced relocation of the civilian population, sexual violence against women and girls, forcible recruitment and use of child soldiers, and the widespread use of torture and extrajudicial killings against persons in conflict zones. These crimes are especially directed against the ethnic Muslim Rohingya minority of western Burma, and against ethnic minorities living in conflict zones in eastern Burma. The G8, as the governments of the world's leading industrialized countries, can play a crucial role in helping to bring an end to these abuses by supporting an impartial inquiry into violations of international human rights and humanitarian law perpetrated by all parties to Burma's civil conflict: the Burmese army, or Tatmadaw, and the more than 30 non-state ethnic armed groups that have operated in Burma's hinterlands for decades. Such an inquiry will not only support and protect the victims of serious abuses in Burma and arrest the continuing cycle of impunity, but also generate support for peace-building and broader respect for human rights in Burma. Targeted sanctions Targeted sanctions, if properly imposed, are an important way to bring about improvements in human rights. Several G8 countries have targeted sanctions in place against Burma's military government. Targeted sanctions include arms embargoes and restrictions on military assistance, travel bans on individuals, financial sanctions on individuals and entities, and investment and trade sanctions that are specifically focused on companies or economic sectors of greatest concern. But for those punitive measures to be truly effective and effect change, they must be strengthened, fully implemented, and better coordinated among influential international actors. Slow implementation by sanctioning governments and poor coordination have undermined financial and other sanctions, and kept them from realizing their potential.

The G8 is the right place to start such a discussion and coordination of sanctions. G8 members should agree to target key individuals, both military and civilian, who bear responsibility for serious human rights abuses in Burma, including war crimes and crimes against humanity; their business interests; and the individuals and entities whose considerable financial support of the SPDC could undermine these sanctions. These individuals are at the apex of the system inside Burma and are susceptible to this kind of pressure. More effective coordination could also yield greater support from other key states that so far have failed to add their weight to these international efforts. In particular, an arms embargo will limit the military government's access to the tools of oppression, and circumscribe Burma's growing military relationship with North Korea and other arms suppliers. 2010 Elections The international community and the United Nations have made frequent and longstanding calls for Burma's first elections in 20 years to be conducted in a free and inclusive environment. However, without a drastic change of course, the polls planned for Burma in 2010 are likely to do nothing more than establish a parliamentary facade for continued military rule. The 2008 Constitution contains provisions designed to ensure military dominance in any civilian administration, with reserved seats for serving military officers, and reservation of key ministerial portfolios. Electoral laws released in recent weeks are designed to limit the participation of longstanding opponents of military rule by forcing political parties, on pain of de-registration, to expel any members currently serving prison sentences. There are more than 2,100 activists currently behind bars in Burma on politically motivated charges. The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, would have to expel party leader Aung San Suu Kyi and many other officials in order to participate in the elections. Many of these dissidents and political party members have long expressed aspirations to be a part of the political process, including engaging in negotiations with the military. Continuing government repression throughout Burma is not conducive to a credible and inclusive electoral process. Under such conditions, it is difficult to conclude that elections in Burma will have any positive effect for the people. It may be premature to judge the elections themselves, but it is essential that the electoral process conducted in such conditions of repression not be endorsed in any way by the international community. We believe that Burma's intransigent leadership thrives on divergent approaches among members of the international community, and that a strong and coordinated multilateral approach is the best way to exert real pressure on the SPDC. The G8 should lead by example, by reiterating the statements made by individual

members that denounce the current electoral system and call for the release of all political prisoners and the implementation without delay of a credible, inclusive political process. Humanitarian aid G8 members should continue to forthrightly address Burma's alarming humanitarian situation. Although the humanitarian situation in Burma remains desperate, government-imposed obstacles to delivery of assistance mean that the country remains one of the lowest recipients of international humanitarian aid. Increasing international pressure is not at odds with increased international assistance-the considered strategy of strengthening Burmese communities through humanitarian aid while imposing targeted sanctions on the country's senior leadership is the best approach to support positive change in this longsuffering country. We trust that you will all give due consideration to these issues and look forward to discussing them with your government's representatives. Sincerely yours,

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director Human Rights Watch