In this report, Human Rights Watch is not making recommendations directly to the Burmese government, an unusual step for our organization. Since elections were annulled in 1990, international institutions including the UN General Assembly and other UN bodies, concerned governments, and non-governmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch have made dozens of good-faith recommendations to the government that have been systematically ignored. It is obvious that the Burmese government must urgently release those arbitrarily detained and account for those killed or disappeared, among other urgent steps, and that all those responsible for serious abuses should be brought to justice. In this report, we address other actors who have or could have influence on the Burmese government to end the broader human rights crisis in the country.
Human Rights Watch urgently recommends the imposition of sanctions on Burma by the United Nations Security Council or, should the council fail to act, multilateral or unilateral sanctions. Sanctions should be pegged to Burma meeting specific human rights conditions. These should include the release of all persons arbitrarily detained for exercising their basic human rights to free expression, association, and assembly, an accurate official accounting of the numbers, whereabouts, and conditions of individuals killed, arrested, and detained by the security forces in the recent crackdown, and a return to civilian rule. Sanctions should include:
A mandatory and fully enforced embargo on all weapons and ammunition sales and transfers to Burma.
Targeted sanctions, including financial sanctions, should be targeted at leading officials, both military and civilian, who bear responsibility for abuses, as well as others who may assist in, or be complicit in, the evasion of sanctions by those individuals. Those sanctioned should be identified by means of a fair process, and the sanctions should be subject to regular monitoring of both their impact on human rights and whether the steps outlined below are being reached.
Impose targeted financial sanctions on companies owned and controlled by the Burmese military or whose revenues substantially benefit the military. These entities include the Burmese governments Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), a state company under the Ministry of Energy whose earnings benefit the military. In addition, prohibit payments to or business partnerships with such entities.
Targeted financial sanctions on Burmese entities and individuals must be designed to not only freeze the assets of identified individuals and companies but also deny them access to financial institutions and services, including by explicitly prohibiting any financial transactions that pass through clearing-house banks or use financial services in the sanctioning governments jurisdiction, such as the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) network.
Sanctioned Burmese individuals and entities also should be prevented from circumventing financial sanctions by originating or terminating financial transactions in non-sanctioning countries. Key to maximizing the effect of targeted banking sanctions is having banking centers (e.g., EU, Switzerland, US) take steps to severely constrain the ability of named individuals and entities ability to carry out transactions via third countries. They should therefore insist that any foreign financial institutions that want to do business in their jurisdiction (such as Singapore banks wanting to do business in the EU, Switzerland, US, etc.) confirm that they also are banning transactions by the named individuals and entities.
Impose targeted sanctions on imports, exports, and new investment in sectors of Burmas economy that substantially benefit the military and/or are associated with serious human rights abuses. These include, inter alia, the petroleum (oil and gas), mining (gems, metals, minerals), and logging (logs and timber) sectors, as well as hydropower and other major infrastructure projects.264
Human Rights Watch urgently recommends a substantial increase in humanitarian aid to Burma from donors to address serious and widespread gaps in food, healthcare, housing, and other basic needs. However, such aid should be provided only if necessary conditions are met. To meet these conditions, the government must:
Make public commitments to end its practice of interfering with the independent and professional delivery of humanitarian aid.
To ensure maximum effectiveness of humanitarian aid, donors should:
Ensure that the delivery of humanitarian assistance is carried out independently without unnecessary interference from government or military officials.
Resist efforts by the authorities to interfere with the independent and impartial delivery of assistance or manipulate it for other purposes, such as to extend military control.
Be flexible in relations with civil society groups, especially regarding monitoring in remote areas, and be prepared to respond to small-scale project proposals.
Work with all good faith actors, including ethnic nationalist groups that have not concluded a ceasefire with the government, to provide humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs). Efforts should be made to create a dialogue to better map highly vulnerable IDP movements and to provide assistance. This should be done in the spirit of independent and impartial humanitarian assistance and the protection of civilians.
Fund studies and surveys on health, education, food, livelihoods, land and property rights, landmines, agriculture, HIV/AIDS, gender, children, and other basic needs in conflict and ceasefire areas in order to draw lessons about how to operate and provide humanitarian aid in each area.
Develop participatory research programs to identify specific information gaps and humanitarian protection needs.
Demand serious, structured, and time-bound negotiations with all political parties, representatives of Burmas many ethnic groups, social and political activists, the Buddhist clergy, and other civil society groups to create democratic, civilian rule as soon as possible.
Immediately impose and enforce a mandatory embargo on all weapons sales and transfers to Burma.
Adopt a resolution to ban all new investment in Burmas oil and gas sector.265
Adopt a resolution to prohibit financial transactions with entities owned or controlled by the Burmese military, or whose revenues are largely used to finance military activities.
In accordance with Security Council resolutions 1539 (paragraph 5) and 1612 (paragraph 9) on children and armed conflict, adopt targeted measures to address the failure of the State Peace and Development Council to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers.266
Hold public discussions of the situation in Burma, issue additional public statements on behalf of the Council, and provide consistent follow-through on the UN Security Council presidential statement of October 11, 2007. That statement called for the release of all political prisoners and remaining detainees, and for a genuine dialogue involving Aung San Suu Kyi and all concerned parties and ethnic groups. None of these demands has been met.
Adopt a resolution that clearly addresses the governments failure to comply with the demands of the council and notes the seriousness of the human rights crisis in the country.
Invite the special rapporteur on Burma, Paulo Sergio de Pinheiro, to address the Security Council, allowing members of the council to hear directly about Pinheiros findings during his November 2007 visit.
Demand an end to stonewalling by the State Peace and Development Council, including during any future visit by the UN envoy, Ibrahim Gambari. Insist on the call in the presidential statement of October 11 that commitments are followed by action.
Demand that Gambari should be allowed to meet with all interlocutors requested, including representatives of the 88 Generation students, members of parliament elected in 1990, monks and detainees.
Note that the few concessions which the Burmese government has offered so far have been in response to international pressure. The small concessions, while welcome, thus provide a reminder of the importance of continued and sustained pressure from the Security Council.
Demand an end to unnecessary or excessive restrictions on the operations of international humanitarian aid agencies, including UN agencies and international relief organizations.
Press the Burmese government to engage in genuine and good faith negotiations with all political parties, representatives of Burmas many ethnic groups, social and political activists, the Buddhist clergy, and other civil society groups to create democratic, civilian rule as soon as possible.
Ensure that such efforts are not used by the Burmese government or its closest diplomatic partners, such as China, simply to buy time or draw the United Nations into dialogue for its own sake instead of towards clear and tangible improvements.
Push for continued public discussions and statements by the Security Council. Continue to issue public statements to put pressure on the Burmese government to address the human rights and political situation.
- Endorse the report of the Special Rapporteur at its December 2007 session.
- Demand a full accounting from the Burmese government of the events of recent months by creating an international Commission of Inquiry.
- Demand full Burmese government cooperation with future independent investigations by the Special Rapporteur, Commission of Inquiry or other special procedures, including by allowing unfettered access to all persons including political prisoners, and to places he wants to visit, including places of detention.
On October 24, 2007, the Australian government imposed some of the toughest financial sanctions under Australian law on the SPDC and its main supporters. Under the Banking (Foreign Exchange) Regulations 1959, the policy prohibits the transfer of funds to 418 individuals without consent of the Australian Reserve Bank. Those named include serving and retired senior SPDC and military officials, their immediate family members, leaders of the USDA, business associates of the military government, and people who benefit from government economic policies. Human Rights Watch urges the Australian government to also:
- Ensure compliance by Australian banks and companies with the financial sanctions described above.
- Suspend the inclusion of Burmese police and military officers in Australian-sponsored multilateral transnational crime and counter-terrorism workshops as this offers the stamp of legitimacy to repressive security forces in Burma.
- Institute a vetting procedure to ensure that Burmese police, military, and government officials working with Australian Federal Police (AFP) on counter-narcotics and anti-trafficking initiatives are not involved in human rights violations. Create a mechanism for Australian officials involved in such projects to report on human rights violations in areas where Australian officials work inside Burma.
- Agree to increase humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma of the conditions for providing assistance, outlined above, are met.
- Increase levels of assistance to refugee communities outside Burma, including over 150,000 refugees in Thailand, and to IDP populations in conflict areas, estimated at over 500,000 inside Burma.
- Accept more Burmese refugees. Press Burmas neighbours Thailand, China, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Singapore to recognize their obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
As Burmas most powerful and important neighbor, its major investor and arms supplier, and its strongest diplomatic protector, China has special responsibilities. China should:
- Immediately place an embargo on all weapons transfers from China to Burma and suspend all military training, transport, assistance, and cooperation.
- Support or abstain from vetoing UN Security Council resolutions calling for sanctions or other collective action to address the crisis in Burma.
- Constructively engage with other Security Council members to design and adopt appropriate multilateral sanctions on Burma.
- In the absence of Security Council-imposed sanctions, China (along with other countries) should act to impose targeted sanctions to encourage the steps outlined above.
- Ban new investment and prohibit the importation of select products from Burma.
- Prohibit business partnerships with or payments to entities owned or controlled by the Burmese military, and whose revenues are largely used to finance military operations (as opposed to social spending).
- Suspend involvement by state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation and Sinopec, both official Olympic partners, in the proposed Burma-China oil and natural gas pipelines until the conditions specified above in relation to multilateral sanctions are met. The proposed construction of overland pipelines would exacerbate the serious human rights situation in Burma.
- Suspend activities related to onshore pipeline projects in Burma, as it will not be possible to carry out such projects without becoming complicit in the abuse of human rights.
- Instruct Chinese firms, including stated-owned firms with business ties to Burma, to publicly and fully disclose all payments made to the Burmese military, directly or through the entities it controls.
In the General Affairs and External Relations Council conclusions of October 15, 2007 the EU concluded that the situation in Burma is extremely serious and this is the time to increase direct pressure on the regime through stronger measures
The EU then took an important step when it banned the import of timber, gemstones and precious metals from Burma, the export of equipment to these sectors, and a ban on new investment within these sectors. The EU has long frozen the funds and economic resources of various individuals and organizations with direct ties to the regime, as well as visa restrictions against managers of state-owned enterprises and their family members. The EU already has 386 individuals from Burma on its sanctions list. All of this is welcome. In addition, the EU and its member states should:
- As a logical extension of the current EU sanctions regime, the EU should deny these same entities and individuals access to banking systems within its borders and should prohibit them from making any financial transactions that use clearing house banks within the EU.
- Adopt enhanced anti-money laundering and sanctions measures that would deny foreign financial institutions access to the financial systems within EU Member States if they fail to comply with the EU-imposed sanctions against Burmese entities. Only when international efforts are consolidated will the ruling junta feel the true bite of sanctions.
- Ensure that EU sanctions are kept under constant review and enhanced and well coordinated with other like-minded states to ensure maximum impact.
- Ensure that the newly appointed EU Special Envoy to Burma, Pierro Fassino, is tasked with ensuring the effective implementation of EU sanctions on Burmese officials and entities.
Consistent with the EUs own Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict and the arms embargo it has already imposed against Burma, the EU should use its December GAERC meeting to publicly agree to pursue a United Nations Security Council arms embargo against Burma under the Councils children and armed conflict agenda.
Though India supported the NLD and the democratic opposition after the 1988 crackdown and the 1990 annulment of national elections, in the past decade it has forged close relations with Burmas military government. It has become a major arms supplier, a major investor, and a major importer of gas. It has even invited Than Shwe for a state visit with full honors. Indian officials say that they are pursuing this policy for economic reasons, particularly related to energy needs, to protect national security in obtaining Burmese support for counter-insurgency operations along its northeast border, and to compete with China for influence in Burma and the region. As the worlds largest democracy, India should be expected to have an ethical dimension to its foreign policy, particularly with respect to a highly repressive neighbor such as Burma. Many in India and internationally have been shocked and disappointed in the Indian governments stance. The government should reverse course and:
- Issue public and strong condemnations of Burma for its crackdown on monks and protesters and its systematic human rights violations. Weak and tardy statements calling for restraint or national reconciliation have undermined a united international response and sent a message to Burmas leaders that they retain Indias support.
- Immediately place an embargo on all weapons transfers from Russia to Burma and suspend all military training, transport, assistance, and cooperation.
- As a democracy committed to international human rights standards, take a leadership role in imposing the sanctions outlined above.
- Put pressure on the SPDC to engage in dialogue with its critics, and end its repression of them. The Seven Step Road Map to Democracy, which is merely a cover for continued military rule, must be scrapped and replaced with a plan that has the genuine support of Burmas political parties and ethnic groups.
- Urge the SPDC to reconvene a truly representative and participatory national convention that operates through an open and transparent consultative process that could lead to a new constitutional settlement that genuinely reflects the views of all parties and leads to the creation of a civilian government.
Japanese policy towards Burma has moved in a positive direction in the past year. As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Japan voted in favor of the January resolution on Burma. It has taken steps to reduce the number of aid programs it conducts with or through the Burmese government. These are welcome. But Japans response to the crackdown in Burma has been tepid. Thus far, it has only suspended one project, a human resources development project. Even government officials admit that this would not have happened if Kenji Nagai, a Japanese journalist, had not been killed, outraging public opinion.
As the largest donor to Burma over a long period of time, Japan should speak and act more clearly and strongly. The Japanese government should:
- More publicly and vociferously press the Burmese government to end human rights abuses and engage in political reform.
- Suspend all aid projects in Burma pending a comprehensive review. Only humanitarian aid projects that directly benefit the people of Burma should be restarted. Prime Minister Fukuda recently promised that such steps were underway, but recent Human Rights Watch meetings with foreign ministry officials in Tokyo suggest that this is not yet happening.
- End its policy of not funding human rights and democracy projects and activists, apparently for fear of offending the Burmese government.
- Lead efforts for independent international human rights investigators to be given immediate access to investigate the widespread human rights abuses committed by the military government, including the killing of monks and others, such as Mr. Kenji Nagai.
- Work with UNHCR and NGOs to promptly offer resettlement to refugees from Burma.
- End its use of vetoes of UN Security Council resolutions calling for sanctions or other collective action to address the crisis in Burma, which have placed Russia on the side of a military dictatorship and against the Burmese people.
- Immediately place an embargo on all weapons transfers from Russia to Burma and suspend all military training, transport, assistance, and cooperation.
- Continue to provide leadership within ASEAN to press for reforms in Burma.
- As the reported location of many official and private bank accounts of the Burmese government and its officials, fully cooperate with targeted financial and banking sanctions.
Thailand is Burmas biggest trading partner. It is the largest provider of foreign currency, particularly through the petroleum sector, which provided revenue of US$2.16 billion in 2006 directly to the SPDC. It is also a key diplomatic protector in ASEAN and other international forums. Thailand has great influence in Burma, but has long been an enabler of the regime through financial and diplomatic support. Thailand should:
- Instruct Thai firms, including stated-owned firms with business ties to Burma, to publicly and fully disclose all payments made to the Burmese military, directly or through the entities it controls.
- Prohibit business partnerships with or payments to entities owned or controlled by the Burmese military, and whose revenues are largely used to finance military operations.
- Suspend new investment by the state-controlled PTT Exploration and Production Co Ltd (PTTEP) in proposed oil and natural gas pipelines to Burma as these projects would exacerbate the serious human rights situation in Burma. Similar suspension should also be applied to Thai companies or state-controlled enterprises involved in the construction of hydropower dams in Burma for the same reasons.
- Urge other ASEAN members to design and adopt appropriate collective actions on Burma, using both ASEAN and UN mechanisms.
- As a state on Burmas borders, Thailand should allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to resume Refugee Status Determination activities for all asylum seekers from Burma in accordance with its mandate to provide international protection to refugees. At the same time, Thailand should abandon its current policy that only those fleeing armed conflict are entitled to protection and temporary stay in Thailand. Those fleeing Burma should be treated as refugees where there is a well-founded fear of persecution for one of the reasons stated in the 1951 Refugee Convention, regardless of whether or not this is experienced in the context of armed conflict.
The United States has a longstanding ban on new private investment in Burma and on direct imports. Following the latest crackdown, the US-imposed targeted sanctions on key individuals within the Burmese government, some family members, and close business associates, which prevent them from conducting financial transactions that pass through US banks. That approach takes advantage of new tools available to the US government following the September 11, 2001 attacks, which allow it to deny foreign banks access to the US banking system if they do not comply with US laws, including sanctions imposed on other countries. Though the United States has not yet denied access to a non-cooperative bank, it has reportedly persuaded some banks abroad, including in Singapore, to freeze the accounts of targeted Burmese individuals. The United States should also:
Support UN-sponsored mediation of the political crisis in Burma, and work to keep Burma on the agenda of the UN Security Council.
Extend the financial sanctions announced by President George W. Bush on September 24, 2007 to military-owned companies, to all leading SPDC officials who bear responsibility for abuses, and to others who may assist in, or be complicit in, the evasion of sanctions by targeted individuals.
o Consistent with section 311 of the USA Patriot Act, deny access to the US banking system to non-US banks that continue to do business with Burmese leaders and business entities covered by US financial sanctions.
o Close the loophole in existing US sanctions that allows gems from Burma to be sold in the United States if they have been processed in a third country.
o Coordinate implementation of sanctions with the European Union, Australia, Singapore, Japan and other countries that may impose similar restrictions, as well as with major banking centers around the world.
ASEANs members have long been embarrassed by the behavior of Burma, which has time after time promised reform and then reneged on its commitments. It failed to cooperate with Ibrahim Gambaris predecessor, Razali Ismail, who was appointed with the strong and close support of ASEAN, in particular then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed. In recent years ASEAN and some of its members have dropped their non-interference stance by publicly criticizing the Burmese government and calling on it to make progress on democratization and national reconciliation. For these reasons ASEAN issued a strong statement on September 27 on the crackdown that expressed their revulsion
over reports that the demonstrations in Myanmar are being suppressed by violent force. It is now time to turn these words into action. ASEAN should:
- Support UN Security Council resolutions calling for sanctions or other collective action to address the crisis in Burma.
- In the absence of Security Council-imposed sanctions, ASEAN (along with its member countries) should act to impose targeted sanctions to encourage an end to ongoing repression by banning new investment and prohibit the importation of select products, such as gems and timber, from Burma; and prohibiting business partnerships with or payments to entities owned or controlled by the Burmese military, or whose revenues are largely used to finance military operations (as opposed to social spending).
- Implement an ASEAN arms embargo on Burma.
- Support the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma to investigate human rights abuses committed during and after the August and September protests.
- Press Burma to uphold ASEANs new Charter, adopted in November 2007, which contains provisions on the strengthening of democracy, enhancing good governance and the rule of law, and the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- Suspend Burma from ASEAN if it does not uphold the provisions of the Charter.
- Activate its troika mechanism, used in Cambodia in 1997 after Hun Sens coup, to press Burma to take immediate steps towards political reform and human rights protections.
- Governments of companies headquartered in their jurisdiction should require companies headquartered in their jurisdictions that have business ties to Burma to publicly and fully disclose all payments made to the Burmese military, directly or through the entities it controls, and where those payments are made.
- All states, particularly neighboring countries such as Thailand, China, India and Bangladesh, should uphold the 1951 Refugee Convention and customary international law and allow anyone fleeing persecution in Burma to cross the border and receive necessary and appropriate assistance.