Wed 30 Nov 2005
Filed under: News,Press Release
Published November 29, 2005
In response to a debate introduced by Lord Alton of Liverpool, the UK government has pledged its support for UN Security Council action on Burma.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Lord Triesman said: “Our position is clear: we support the involvement of the UN in helping to address Burma’s problems. We also support US efforts to get the UN Security Council to address Burma . We are supporting it with effort and energy and will continue to do so. We will work consistently with the Americans on how best to achieve the goal. We are wholly involved.”
Members of the House of Lords held the debate yesterday, just hours after 900 Karen villagers fled yet another attack by the Burma Army.
In his opening speech, Lord Alton, a founder of Jubilee Campaign and Patron of Karen Aid, told the House of Lords: “The topicality and immediacy of the debate is underlined by an e-mail I received concerning events at 9 o’clock local time today, when in Hee Daw Hgaw, village, at least 30 houses were burnt. Just two days ago in Taungoo district, 10 shells were launched on Htaw Hta Htoo township.”
Lord Alton, who has travelled to the Karen areas on both sides of the Thai-Burmese border several times, urged the British Government to support efforts to bring the issue of Burma to the United Nations Security Council, and to explore initiatives to bring Burma’s military regime to justice for crimes against humanity and attempted genocide. He set out the legal definitions of genocide under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and argued that the Burmese junta’s persecution of the Karen, Karenni and Shan met many of the criteria.
“The Burmese military have for years been conducting widespread and systematic atrocities against Karen, Karenni and Shan civilians including rape, summary executions, torture, disappearances, extortion, forced labour and the systematic destruction of villages, crops, livestock and food stores deliberately creating a humanitarian catastrophe,” Lord Alton said.
“The names of Burmese military commanders and units engaged in such atrocities are often reported yet disturbingly Her Majesty’s Government have so far failed to acknowledge that genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are being perpetrated against those ethnic groups . Last year I was in Rwanda, where western governments failed to name genocide for what it was. After Rwanda, the international community once again declared “Never again”, but in Burma it is never again, all over again.”
Lord Alton highlighted Guy Horton’s report Dying Alive: A Legal Assessment of Human Rights Violations in Burma, which CSW and Jubilee Campaign helped to promote earlier this year. He referred to CSW’s report documenting strong circumstantial evidence indicating the use of chemical or biological weapons against Karenni in an attack on February 15 this year, and said this was not the first time such allegations had been made.
“Several victims of this attack have now been examined by three separate medical practitioners independently of each other. Another examination using a matrix from Jane’s Chem-Bio Handbook for military use, suggests that a cocktail of blister agents, nerve agents and pulmonary agents was used in this attack, ” said Lord Alton. “These allegations . should be taken extremely seriously . The use of mustard gas, blister agents and other chemicals is in blatant contravention of the chemical weapons convention of 1992, which Burma ratified in January 1993.”
CSW’s Honorary President Baroness Cox, who has visited the Thai-Burmese border recently, referred to the “massive collection of authoritative, accurate evidence documenting the atrocities perpetrated by the SPDC”. She had personally interviewed victims of forced labour, former child soldiers, rape victims, human minesweepers and, most recently, victims of alleged chemical weapons attacks.
In addition to the Karen, Karenni and Shan, Baroness Cox highlighted the plight of the Chin and Kachin peoples on the India-Burma border, whom she had visited with CSW last year. “As a predominantly Christian people, they have experienced religious persecution, with the systematic destruction of churches and the crosses they build at crossroads and on hilltops. Some have been forced to contribute to the replacement of their churches by pagodas,” she said. “Many have had to flee into neighbouring India to survive, living in dire conditions in rural areas or urban so-called camps in cities.”
Baroness Cox reminded the House of Lords of the debt Britain owes to the ethnic groups in Burma. If Britain does not act, she said, “we will be guilty not only of betraying a defenceless people who are suffering and dying while we talk here today, but we will be doubly culpable. These are people who have paid a high price for supporting us in the Second World War. They gave their lives, alongside our soldiers, in the battle for freedom then. Will we leave them to suffer and die without any effective support from us now? They are looking to us for help in this their hour of desperate need. I hope that they will not look in vain this afternoon.”
Stuart Windsor, National Director of CSW, said: “We have been working for well over a decade to get the humanitarian crisis and gross violations of human rights in Burma on to the international agenda. Debates like this help enormously to hold our Government to account and to raise awareness of the desperate plight of the ethnic nationalities. We applaud Lord Alton for securing and opening the debate, and we welcome the Government’s statement of support for UN Security Council action on Burma.”