WASHINGTON—The Pentagon on Monday categorically ruled out resumption of a defense relationship with Burma until the US’s concerns on human rights issues with the Burmese military are addressed.
The Pentagon’s reiteration of its policy on military-to-military engagement with the Burmese armed forces came as a few top US Defense Department officials travelled to Burma to participate in the first ever US-Burma Human Rights Dialogue.
“This first Human Rights Dialogue in Burma reflects the Administration’s whole-of-government approach to the promotion of human rights and the rule of law,” the State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, told The Irrawaddy.
The delegation, led by the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Michael Posner, includes senior representatives from the White House National Security Staff, the Office of the Vice President, the Department of Homeland Security, the US Agency for International Development, and the Department of Defense, she said.
“The Human Rights dialogue will cover a range of human rights-related issues, including the rule of law; protection of civilian populations in conflict areas; business, labor, and economic development; freedom of expression; religious freedom; criminal justice and political prisoners; and human rights and the military,” Nuland said.
Prominent among those attending the dialogue from the Department of Defense include Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Vikram Singh; and Lt. Gen Francis Wiercinski, the head of the US Army’s Pacific Command. Defense Department officials insisted that the presence of US military officials is in no way should be considered as revival of defense relationship between the two countries. They are attending the human rights dialogue at the invitation of the State Department, Pentagon officials said.
“The Defense Department is participating in the US-Burma Human Rights Dialogue to discuss the our support for human rights and respect for civilian authority. The official US Government policy regarding defense activities with Burma remains one of disengagement, except in limited humanitarian and diplomatic instances,” Maj Cathy Wilkinson, the Defense Department Press Officer for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs (APSA) told The Irrawaddy.
“We appreciate the steps the government of Burma has taken to institute democratic reforms, reach out to ethnic groups to resolve longstanding ethnic conflicts, and address human rights concerns,” she said, adding that much work is left to be done in these areas, but the United States is interested in supporting Burma in these efforts.
“A resumption of bilateral defense ties can only occur with additional progress and we hope that the Burmese military will continue to support the civilian government, promote and accept its reforms, and improve its human rights record,” Wilkinson said.
“Respect for human rights, civilian oversight over the military, and transparency are hallmarks of all modern, professional militaries and the key to their legitimacy with their own people. The United States Defense Department take its responsibilities in these areas very seriously,” she said in response to a question.