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IBAHRI calls on the world’s lawyers to take action for justice in Burma

By International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute  •  July 12, 2011

The Justice for Burma campaign was launched today by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI). The Campaign aims to galvanise support, primarily among the world’s legal profession, for a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (UN COI) into allegations of serious violations of human rights law and humanitarian law in Burma.

Dr Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association said, ‘The most egregious crimes have been committed with impunity in Burma over an astoundingly long period of time. The international community must act to hold the perpetrators accountable and end this iniquity. He added, ‘It is imperative that the 2011 United Nations General Assembly establishes a UN Commission of Inquiry for Burma with urgency. We believe the IBAHRI’s “Justice for Burma campaign” will contribute towards realising this endeavour.’

In the view of the IBAHRI an established UN COI should be mandated to investigate all allegations of international crimes documented by UN mechanisms; human rights organisations; and international regional and national organisations that have been committed by all parties to the conflict in Burma, that is: the Burmese army and the non-state armed groups.

With the international community reluctant to take stringent measures against the newly elected Government of Burma, the initial mandate of the UN COI could be primarily to seek the truth, ascertain the facts and legally determine whether or not the crimes involved constitute international crimes. In the absence of adequate protection by a state, such a process can only be instigated by an independent and impartial body.

If prima facie cases of international crimes are found, the Commissioners could make recommendations to the UN Security Council to explore options for international judicial mechanisms, through a second UN led fact-finding mission, and for UN Member States to apply their universal jurisdiction legislation.

The IBAHRI believes that the announcement and establishment of a UN COI may significantly deter the commission of further crimes; insofar as the international community will send a strong signal to the generals that human rights abuses must stop immediately.

Murder, systematic rapes, sexual violence, torture, the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, warrantless detention, widespread forced relocations, and forced labour are all crimes widely-reported to have taken place in Burma.

The UN Special rapporteur on Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2010, described human rights abuses in the country as ‘gross and systematic’ and potentially amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity. His report reads: ‘Given the extent and persistence of the problem, and the lack of accountability, there is an indication that those human rights violations are the result of a State policy, originating from decisions by authorities in the executive, military and judiciary at all levels.’ In March 2011 Mr Ojea Quintana reiterated his proposal for an impartial and independent investigation.

Mr Ojea Quintana’s proposal has been the catalyst for the Justice for Burma campaign. Lawyers, bar associations, and law societies will be encouraged to use their influence to bring about a UN COI by:

  • Issuing statements of support on their websites and in newsletters;
  • Adding their names to the campaign for a UN Inquiry organised by Burma Campaign UK; and by
  • Lobbying their own governments through letters and meetings with foreign ministers.

Background information and guidelines to assist lawyers in taking action are on the IBAHRI website at: www.ibanet.org.

IBAHRI Co-chair, Sternford Moyo said: ‘Lawyers have both the legitimacy and duty to apply influence and pressure where necessary to open an investigation when allegations of international crimes are reported. It is our inherent responsibility to uphold and promote the protection of human rights.’ He added, ‘I am deeply concerned by the unwillingness of the Burmese Government to investigate reports of human rights abuses and by the absence of legal remedies available to victims. Human rights violations in Burma must stop immediately and an independent and impartial UN- led investigative mission should be established without delay.’

Click here for the IBAHRI Background Paper on Burma.


Click here for the IBAHRI Guidelines for Action Document.

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