Human Rights Watch call on the G8 to discuss Burma

Ahead of a planning meeting before the June summit of the G8 group of industrialised countries New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged ministers to include Burma on the agenda.

The G8 is a grouping of 8 of the leading economies, formed by France in 1975 it also includes the US, Japan, Italy, Canada, the UK, Germany and Russia. This year’s gathering will take place in the Canadian city of Toronto in June.

“One of the reasons that we sent this letter to the G8 is to say; for an international policy towards Burma to have more effect it’s actually got to have more unanimity”… “That’s why we talked about the commission of enquiry and targeted financial sanctions and the elections” said David Mathieson, HRW’s Burma analyst.

The letter points to four main issues. The commission of inquiry refers to Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, who recommended on 8 March, after his last visit to Burma, that the UN should initiate a commission of inquiry into the junta’s alleged crimes against humanity.

HRW petition the G8 to support such an inquiry, HRW believe that the grouping; “can play a crucial role in helping to bring an end to these abuses by supporting an impartial inquiry into violations of international human rights and humanitarian law ” said the letter.

Targeted sanctions were an area that HRW felt was an “important way to bring about improvements in human rights” but Mathieson was concerned that; “I am sure the Russians will try to block it because the Russians are pretty interested in diverting attention from all the murky things that they are doing in Burma”.

The letter urged however that; “those punitive measures to be truly effective and effect change, they must be strengthened, fully implemented, and better coordinated among influential international actors”. With Mathieson further labelling US inability to curtail US oil companies operational in Burma as “hypocrisy”.

The elections naturally were included in the letter and it labelled them likely only to “establish a parliamentary facade for continued military rule” but added that “It may be premature to judge the elections themselves, but it is essential that the electoral process conducted in such conditions of repression not be endorsed in any way by the international community.”

The final point was humanitarian assistance with the letter calling for “increased international assistance” concluding that; “strengthening Burmese communities through humanitarian aid while imposing targeted sanctions on the country’s senior leadership is the best approach to support positive change in this long-suffering country”. Mathieson meanwhile asserted that Burma’s dire humanitarian situation could become a “regional security issue”.

The grouping is made up largely of countries who have been critical of the military junta with the exception of Russia; “the danger of course is that the Russians will just act petulant and show contempt for human rights which is what they always do and water down any sought of initiative.”

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