President Benigno S. Aquino III

Malacañang Palace

J.P. Laurel St.

San Miguel

Manila, NCR

Philippines

Re:  Promoting Human Rights in Burma

Dear President Aquino,

We write to you regarding the serious human rights situation in Burma. Human Rights Watch wishes to highlight the importance of the Philippines publicly supporting the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry for Burma, in particular through the annual Burma resolution at the upcoming autumn session of the United Nations General Assembly. Such a commission should investigate reports of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Burma by all parties since 2002, and identify perpetrators of such violations with a view to ensuring that those responsible are held accountable.

For years, countless UN reports, resolutions, and documents have called for an end to serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Burma. But these calls have strengthened following the March 2010 report of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, to the UN Human Rights Council, which recommended that the UN consider the possibility of establishing a Commission of Inquiry. Former UN special rapporteurs, Paulo Pinheiro and Yozo Yokota, also support the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry.

We urge the Philippine government to join other states to publicly support the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry for Burma, and to actively engage on behalf of a UN resolution that will make it happen. We encourage you to raise this issue within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which could be accomplished at the US-ASEAN summit later this week in New York.

The governments of Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Slovak Republic, the United Kingdom and the United States are among those that have already publicly announced their support for an international commission to investigate crimes in Burma.

In your inaugural address, you said that "there can be no reconciliation without justice. When we allow crimes to go unpunished, we give consent to their occurring over and over again." This rings particularly true for Burma, where abuses by the military government, as well as by armed ethnic minority groups, have gone unpunished for decades.

In promoting human rights in Burma, you would be following your mother's lead. Former President Corazon Aquino stood strong for justice in Burma. In June 1999, at the Forum on Democratic Leaders in Asia Pacific, Seoul, South Korea, she said, in a speech entitled, "It is Burma's Time Now,"

For there is something in [the Filipinos'] sense of justice that recoils at the thought that justice should elude, after all these years, the Burmese people - kind, gentle, hardworking; but also brave and persevering.

Over a decade later, impunity for serious human rights violations continues in Burma. This international inquiry would be a significant step toward justice.

The United Nations has established many commissions of inquiry in the past to investigate serious violations of international law, but never with respect to Burma. The UN has issued highly critical human rights reports on Burma annually for nearly two decades. Likewise, UN special mechanisms, nongovernmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch, and others have documented and publicly reported on serious human rights abuses in Burma; violations that in some cases amount to war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. These have demonstrated that serious crimes by government security forces are widespread and systematic, and continue with impunity.

The Armed Forces of Burma have been responsible for numerous serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including sexual violence against women and girls, deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, summary executions of civilians and captured combatants, torture, use of child soldiers, attacks on populations' livelihood and food supplies, forced displacement of populations, and use of anti-personnel landmines. Non-state armed groups in Burma also have been implicated in serious abuses, including forced labor, recruitment of child soldiers, and anti-personnel landmine use.

We believe that it is not enough for the UN to simply continue to document and publish reports on the human rights situation in Burma. Instead, the Philippines should play a role in helping to bring an end to these abuses by supporting an international Commission of Inquiry. Such an inquiry will not only support and protect the victims of serious abuses in Burma and arrest the continuing cycle of impunity, but will also generate support for peace-building and broader respect for human rights in Burma.

It is time for the Philippines and other like-minded states to ensure that the worst crimes in Burma will be subject to greater international scrutiny. The establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry would be an important first step.

We attach a comprehensive Q & A on an international Commission of Inquiry for Burma that explains why a commission is necessary, its scope, and how it could be established, among other issues. We trust that you will give due consideration to publicly supporting a commission and actively engage to see that it is established during the upcoming autumn session of the UN General Assembly.

We would be most happy to discuss this issue in more detail with you or your government's representatives.

Sincerely,

Elaine Pearson

Deputy Director, Asia Division

Cc:   

Alberto G. Romulo, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs

Libran N. Cabactulan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations

Willy C. Gaa, Philippines Ambassador to the United States