Burma Partnership, Strengthening Cooperation for a Free Burma
Signup Now!
Join our mailing list for latest news and information about Burma.

Silence on Burma inquiry raises eyebrows

Originally appeared in The Embassy Magazine

August 25, 2010

The US is the latest country to come out in support of a UN investigation into human rights abuses and war crimes.

By Françoise Makanda

While a growing number of countries, most recently the United States, have voiced their support for a United Nation commission of inquiry into the human rights abuses in Burma, opposition critics and pro-Burma groups are questioning Canada’s silence.

In March, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special envoy for Burma, issued a report to the UN Human Rights Council claiming there have been “gross and systematic” human rights abuses in the country, which is also known as Myanmar, involving all levels of authorities and branches of government.

The report says the “possibility exists that some of these human rights violations may entail categories of crimes against humanity or war crimes under the terms of the Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

Since then, Australia, the UK, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have backed Mr. Quintana’s call for the establishment of an inquiry into possible war crimes in the military junta-controlled country. The biggest boost to the effort, however, came last week when American officials revealed the US was also in favour of such a move.

In contrast, the Canadian government has remained silent, despite Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon boasting just last week that Canada has “the toughest sanctions of any country against the Burmese regime to protest its treatment of the Burmese people.”

Tin Maung Htoo, executive director of the Canadian Friends of Burma, said the Conservative government has generally been responsive to the need to strike a hardline with the military junta, but there has been a recent silence on the issue.

“We are not quite happy with the Foreign Minister’s office,” he said. “I sent him many email messages and I even called and they were not responsive…especially this time.” Mr. Htoo believes Canada should have already expressed its position, and its failure to act puts it behind other nations.

Questions put to Mr. Cannon’s office and the Department of Foreign Affairs by Embassy were not returned by press time. Opposition critics are also taking issue with Canada’s apparent silence.

“I’d say to Minister Cannon that if he really believes that Burma is a regime that needs to be held to account, than [supporting the inquiry] is the way to go and if you don’t do this, it does show that your lacking in terms of your commitment to the Burmese people and UN process,” said NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar, who is also a co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Burma group.

Mr. Dewar is one of 80 MPs and senators who have signed onto a petition hosted by the Canadian Friends of Burma calling on the government to endorse the UN inquiry. Liberal MP Larry Bagnell, the other co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Burma, said that in a letter he received from Mr. Cannon, the foreign minister stated the UN Security Council could veto any move to set up such an inquiry—something Mr. Bagnell believes isn’t true.

“I think he thinks that because China and Russia have vetoed such things in the past, he thinks that he needs them all on board, which is not true,” he said. “We could use other bodies in the UN who could create these inquiries.”

Mr. Dewar said he is concerned the government may be delaying it’s support in fear of being outted by the military junta over Canadian mining investments made in the country over the years, which have come under severe criticism.

In December 2007, following a crackdown by the Burmese military junta on pro-democracy protesters, Canada invoked the Special Economic Measures Act against Burma. Doing so prohibits Canadians and Canadian financial institutions from directly or indirectly trading with the Southeast Asian nation. It also banned new investment there. However, already existing investments were unaffected. Canadian mining companies have been accused of indirectly assisting the military junta through their continued economic activity in the country.

Meanwhile, the critics and Mr. Htoo continued to take issue with the government’s claims that the sanctions levelled by Canada against Burma are the toughest in the world—or even that they are having any real impact.

“They have given economic sanctions but there is no mechanism, or systematic mechanism to monitor the process,” Mr. Htoo said. “We recommended to Foreign Affairs the creation of a task force to look into economic sanctions, but there’s only one Burma officer.”

View the original article

Tags: ,

This post is in: Crimes Against Humanity

Related Posts
Statement by the Diplomatic Missions of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Japan, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the United Nations on Myanmar’s Elections
Canadian Burma Ethnic Nationalities Organization Founded at the 2nd Burma Ethnic Nationalities Conference Canada
Toronto Declaration
Conflicting Realities: Reform, Repression and Human Rights in Burma
CFOB Concerned with Kachin Conflicts in Northern Burma