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US: Act Now on Burma Commission of Inquiry

EU, Other States Should Back Clinton’s Call

(New York) ­- US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should use her trips to Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the G20 summit, and the European Union-US summit to intensively build active support for an international commission of inquiry on Burma, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch welcomed Clinton's October 28, 2010 commitment to pursue such a commission, and urged countries supporting a commission to collaborate on a strategic diplomatic plan to make this proposal happen.

On October 28, Clinton said at a news conference in Hawaii, "I would like to underscore the American commitment to seek accountability for the human rights violations that have occurred in Burma by working to establish an international commission of inquiry through close consultations with our friends, allies, and other partners at the United Nations."

"The US is finally starting to show leadership in turning talk of an international commission of inquiry for war crimes into Burma a reality," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Other countries favoring a commission should join the United States in moving from making public statements of support to taking concrete steps to make it happen."

More than 12 governments have publicly supported a commission of inquiry into violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Burma, including EU member states such as the United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ireland, Estonia, Hungary, and Lithuania, as well as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The EU is the lead sponsor of the annual Burma resolution at the United Nations General Assembly, which is currently in session in New York.

In a letter to European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton released on October 18, Human Rights Watch called for Ashton and the EU to back the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (Burma), Tomás Ojea Quintana, and show leadership in support of a commission of inquiry.

Some government leaders have hesitated to act on a commission of inquiry until after the results of the November 7 elections in Burma and formation of a new, nominally civilian government, Human Rights Watch said. China has also spoken out against a commission of inquiry, calling it "destructive" and "dangerous." In his October 2010 report to the UN General Assembly, Quintana elaborated on his proposal to the UN to form an international commission of inquiry by reminding states that justice was at the core of the UN system."Decades of human suffering [in Burma] do not allow further delay," Quintana said.

"A commission of inquiry for Burma won't happen without the active involvement of like-minded countries at the highest levels of government," said Roth. "A determined diplomatic effort - ideally at the UN General Assembly - is the best antidote to those who think Burma's human rights problems will be solved by the November 7 sham elections."

In August, Human Right Watch released a detailed Q&A on the commission of inquiry.

The United Nations has established many commissions of inquiries 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. These reports have demonstrated that serious crimes by government security forces are widespread and systematic, and continue with utter impunity.

The Burmese government and non-state armed groups involved in Burma's long-running internal armed conflicts are bound by international humanitarian law (the laws of war). The armed forces of Burma have been responsible for numerous serious human rights and laws-of-war violations, including deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, summary executions of civilians and captured combatants, sexual violence against women and girls, 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.

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