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G8 Summit should tackle Burma rights crisis

By Human Rights Watch  •  March 26, 2010

Members of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations should put Burma on the agenda of the G8 Summit in Toronto in June, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to foreign ministers of G8 countries today. The foreign ministers of G8 countries are meeting March 29 and 30, 2010, in Gatineau, Quebec to discuss major issues affecting international security and finalize the summit’s agenda.

Human Rights Watch urged the G8 nations to support a United Nations commission of inquiry to investigate war crimes in Burma, to better coordinate targeted sanctions against the ruling military junta, and to collectively press for reforms in Burma that would make planned 2010 elections credible.

“High-profile leadership from the G8 is urgently needed to convince Burma’s military government to protect the rights of its people,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The G8 summit should take up accountability for war crimes, as well as targeted sanctions. G8 leaders should also press for credible elections to be held this year.”

The G8 consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In the letter, Human Rights Watch calls on G8 nations to support the March 8, 2010 report of UN Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. The report asks the UN to consider establishing a commission of inquiry into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma. The UN has long documented patterns of systematic and widespread human rights abuses committed with impunity in Burma, including 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 in conflict zones.

“For too long Burma’s military has committed serious abuses against ethnic minorities without any accountability,” said Pearson. “The G8 should act on the findings of the UN’s independent expert on Burma, and should back an independent inquiry into crimes by all sides.”

Human Rights Watch pointed out that several G8 countries have targeted sanctions in place against Burma’s military government, but that poor coordination and implementation has made these ineffective. Human Rights Watch urged G8 leaders to increase coordination on targeted financial sanctions against the military leadership and their close business associates. The G8 should also back the imposition of a UN Security Council arms embargo on Burma. An arms embargo would limit the military government’s access to weapons technology and infrastructure, ahttp://www.burmapartnership.org/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=2690nd circumscribe Burma’s growing military relationship with North Korea and
other arms suppliers.

Human Rights Watch said that elections scheduled for this year in Burma are unlikely to be free, fair, and open, or to bring democratic change without concerted international pressure for reform. The 2008 Burmese 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 also designed to limit the participation of longstanding opponents of military rule by forcing political parties to expel any members currently serving prison sentences or face de-registration. There are more than 2,100 prisoners currently behind bars in Burma on politically motivated charges.

“G8 leaders should take a collective stand in coordinating sanctions against Burma so they are more effective,” said Pearson. “With elections this year, the timing is crucial for the G8 to send a clear message what the military government needs to do to make them credible.”

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