Human Rights Watch (HRW) has written to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, heavily criticising the UN invitation to involve the Burmese army in future international peacekeeping missions.
In a late January meeting, Burma’s Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing accepted an invitation by the Secretary-General’s special advisor on Myanmar [Burma], Vijay Nambiar, who cited Burma’s progress in internal peace and military transparency.
However in a Friday statement, HRW asserted that “sending [Burmese] troops to UN peacekeeping missions could lead to abuses and undermine peacekeeping standards”.
The Burmese army, known colloquially in the county as the Tatmadaw, has a long and dark history of human rights abuse. That tradition is reflected in the upholding of arms embargos as economic sanctions on the one-time pariah state fall. HRW acknowledged on Friday that Burma has undergone some political reform, but argues change has not extended to the military.
“The Burmese military is among the most abusive armed forces in the world,” HRW’s statement read. “To this day, the military continues to commit serious abuses in areas of the country where armed conflict continues.” HRW cited “widespread killings, torture, sexual violence, use of child soldiers, and forced labor” as the ongoing war crimes of a military that has never been held to account.
The practice of recruiting child soldiers was cited in the HRW statement as a major sticking point to the evolution of the Burmese army into a positive international co-operator.
A total of 272 soldiers recruited as minors have been released since a 2012 UN Joint Action Plan was agreed to eliminate all minors from the military. However the release of underage soldiers at varying intervals has prompted criticism as to the military’s commitment to reform.
“The UN has continued to document child recruitment,” the HRW statement read.
“Inviting Burma to contribute troops to UN peacekeeping operations while it has children in its ranks undermines both the UN’s reputation and global efforts to end this shameful practice.”
The invitation for Burmese troops to participate in international peacekeeping efforts comes as members of the international community reach out to Min Aung Hlaing’s military.
In a January interview with DVB the UK’s ambassador to Burma, Andrew Patrick, said that “Like it or not, the army is a central part of Burmese society,” and it was “better to engage” with the army than to isolate them.”
The British military conducted classroom training with a small group of Burmese army officers in January; however, the British Embassy maintained that the training focused on the elements of a civilian-controlled army, leaving out any combat instruction.
HRW believes that the Burmese army does not yet warrant the level of international trust and acceptance which involvement in a peacekeeping mission would represent.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, told DVB on Friday that “UN peacekeeping missions are not the appropriate place to train rights abusing soldiers how to behave.
“The Tatmadaw have a long record of abusing and killing civilians, recruiting child soldiers, compelling forced labour, and looting and seizing whatever comes across their path – which is usually the sort of thing that UN peacekeepers are trying to prevent in their deployments.
“A far better course of action would be for the Tatmadaw to go beyond ‘on paper’ promises, demonstrate real political commitment to end their rights violating practices, and hold accountable officers and soldiers in their ranks responsible for abuses.”