(New York) – A United Nations offer to the Burmese armed forces to consider sending troops to UN peacekeeping missions could lead to abuses and undermine peacekeeping standards, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The secretary-general’s special advisor on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, extended the invitation to the Burmese defense services commander in chief, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, during a recent visit to Burma.
The Burmese military is among the most abusive armed forces in the world. It has long been responsible for widespread killings, torture, sexual violence, use of child soldiers, and forced labor, among other abuses. The government has not held military personnel responsible for war crimes to account.
“The Burmese military’s poor record on rights and civilian protection is profoundly at odds with the standards that UN peacekeepers are expected to defend around the world,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Any move by the UN to recruit Burmese forces risks grave damage to the UN’s reputation and is at odds with recent efforts to elevate human rights concerns within the UN system.”
Since the army took power in 1962, the military has committed widespread and systematic abuses with impunity. Despite some signs of reform in Burma, including the country’s greater openness after decades of direct army rule, the military remains unreformed. The 2008 Burmese Constitution, drafted by the military government at the time, provides legal immunity to the military for past crimes, which has only entrenched the deeply rooted culture of abuse that permeates the force. To this day, the military continues to commit serious abuses in areas of the country where armed conflict continues, such as those against ethnic Kachin civilians during recent hostilities in Kachin State, as Human Rights Watch has reported.
In light of the widespread abuses committed by the Burmese armed forces with impunity over many years, there is a high risk that UN screening programs, which depend heavily on the troop-sending government, would fail to prevent human rights abusers from serving under the UN flag.
The Burmese army’s continued use of child soldiers is of particular concern. In June 2012, after the UN secretary-general had repeatedly listed Burma as a “persistent perpetrator,” the government signed an action plan with the UN, committing to ending its recruitment of children and releasing all child soldiers by the end of 2013. Since then, very few children have been released from government forces, and the UN has continued to document child recruitment.
“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,” Roth said.