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ASEAN Parliamentarians Call on the European Union to Maintain Suspended Sanctions Against Myanmar

By ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus  •  April 12, 2013

The European Union (EU) should renew its suspension of sanctions against Myanmar but stop short of a total lifting of restrictive measures, ASEAN Parliamentarians said today, citing serious human rights concerns and the failure of the Myanmar government to meet EU benchmarks for reform.

The call came ahead of the 22 April meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council to decide the future of the EU’s restrictive measures against Myanmar in light of the ending of the current 12-month suspension of sanctions on 30 April.

When the EU announced the one-year suspension of sanctions last year, it set a number of key benchmarks for the Myanmar government to achieve if restrictive measures were to be lifted permanently. Although many reforms have taken place over the past 12 months, none of those key benchmarks have been met and in many instances, the human rights situation in the country has worsened in the past year rather than improved. The EU should extend the suspension of restrictive measures against Myanmar for one more year, again stressing the benchmarks that the country must meet if it does not want to see sanctions reinstated.

Council Regulation (EU) No 409/2012 provided for the suspension of restrictive measures, until 30 April 2013, with the exception of the arms embargo and the embargo on equipment which might be used for internal repression, which were retained.

“We are very concerned that if the possibility of the return of sanctions is removed completely and prematurely it could unhinge what is already proving to be a very fragile and top-down reform process. The credible threat that sanctions could be reinstated if genuine legislative and political reforms and respect for human rights are not put in place is a crucial component of a complex system of efforts to keep this reform process moving forward,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, AIPMC president and Indonesian Member of Parliament.

“International pressure has played a considerable role in encouraging reformers within the government in Myanmar to support the democratic steps we have witnessed over the past two years. A careful balance needs to be struck between encouragement and continued pressure – permanently lifting EU sanctions now would be sending the wrong message.”

When the EU suspended sanctions on 26th April 2012, it made clear the progress it expected to see in response, stating in the Council Conclusions:

“…the EU still expects the unconditional release of remaining political prisoners and the removal of all restrictions placed on those already released. It looks forward to the end of conflict and to substantially improved access for humanitarian assistance, in particular for those affected by conflict in Kachin State and along the Eastern border, as well as to addressing the status and improving the welfare of the Rohingyas.”

Unfortunately, none of these benchmarks have been met, and in many instances, the situations have deteriorated. Hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars, the war in Kachin State has intensified and ceasefires with other armed groups are under threat. Of increasing concern is the continued plight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Myanmar. Over 120,000 Rohingya remain trapped in squalid camps while the government continues to execute a policy of segregation of Muslim and Buddhist communities, which has fuelled sectarian tensions. The Rohingya remain persecuted and hounded by archaic and repressive laws that deny hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims their basic human rights. Moreover, humanitarian access to IDPs and hundreds of thousands of others in need of assistance remains hampered and a host of repressive laws remain on the books under a flawed, military-penned constitution.

The authorities have failed to react sufficiently to prevent recent killings of dozens of Muslim men, women and children and to reduce the fanning of inter-communal violence and hatred. Hundreds of homes, mosques and businesses owned by Muslims have been burned to the ground by mobs led in many cases by Buddhist monks.

“We are extremely concerned by these recent acts of violence against Muslim communities and the spreading of anti-Muslim propaganda that point towards ethnic cleansing taking place inside Myanmar. The authorities did not do enough to stop the killing and they are not doing enough to prevent it happening again,” said Ms. Sundari.

In light of these continued concerns, AIPMC calls on the international community, ASEAN countries included, to continue to send the right message to the power holders in Myanmar. If the EU chooses to permanently lift sanctions despite the grave human rights concerns that continue to hang over this government, then it will simply be telling them that they have the freedom to ignore international demands, violate international law, and continue to commit abuses with impunity.

“We are very concerned by the recent inter-communal violence in Burma and the ongoing plight of the Rohingya people, as well as many other ethnic communities around Myanmar who have suffered through decades of armed conflict. ” said Son Chhay, AIPMC Vice President and Cambodian MP.

“But we are seeing the wrong signals being sent and trade usurping human rights on many levels of international engagement with this reform process. We just hope the EU Foreign Affairs Council will not ignore the serious human rights violations continuing in Myanmar and the need to maintain sanctions, in a suspended state, as an essential safeguard to ensure Myanmar does not backslide from this reform process and comprehensively addresses urgent human rights concerns.”

For further information and interview requests please contact info@aseanmp.org.

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This post is in: Business and Human Rights, Press Release

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