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Conflicting Realities: Reform, Repression and Human Rights in Burma

By Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, House of Commons, Canada  •  June 24, 2013

Canada and the world have reacted to the changes that have occurred in Burma over the past year with cautious optimism. However, as the witnesses who appeared before the Subcommittee stressed, Burma is emerging from 60 years of repressive military rule, characterized by grave human rights violations, an absence of the rule of law, persistent internal armed conflicts, and low levels of human and economic development. Mr. Greg Giokas, Director General, South, Southeast Asia and Oceania at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), underlined the fact that progress on human rights in Burma was unlikely to be entirely smooth and cannot be expected to happen overnight. Developing the capacity within Burma to implement proposed reforms remains a major challenge. The Subcommittee agrees with Mr. Giokas’ assessment that, on the part of reformers within Burma’s civilian government, “this is a very sincere attempt to open up the country to democratic institutions to ensure prosperity and stability” for the people of Burma.

At the same time, the Subcommittee believes this optimism needs to be tempered by continued vigilance on human rights issues. As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s pro-democracy icon and leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), stated in April, if one were to measure Burma’s democratic development on a scale of 1 to 10, the country’s recent reforms have put it “on the way to one.” At this point, the Subcommittee does not believe that Burma’s modest steps toward democratization are irreversible. Whether these recent reforms become entrenched and whether the country’s human rights record continues to improve in the coming years remain to be seen.

In this spirit, the Subcommittee’s report is intended to recognize the important achievements brought about as part of Burma’s reform process, in particular the election of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other candidates from the NLD as Members of Parliament (MP) this April. At the same time, we wish to warn against hasty or irresponsible optimism and to sound the alarm about the lack of civilian control over the Burmese military, which has very serious human rights and humanitarian consequences. Recent progress has not yet extended to all parts of the country, nor to all of the people of Burma. Going forward, we believe that it is important for the international community to look beyond central Burma in assessing the depth and sincerity of the country’s reforms. Respect by the Burmese government and military for human rights and international law in Burma’s ethnic minority areas will be the real measure of change in the country and should inform any decision regarding the permanent removal of sanctions by Canada.

Download the full report here.

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This post is in: Business and Human Rights, Environmental and Economic Justice, Human Rights, International Relations

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