Burma Transition ‘Not Yet Taken Root’, Threatened by Continuing Abuses: Group

By Paul Vrieze 23 July 2014

Burma’s transition to democracy, peace and justice has yet to take root and is being disrupted by continuing political repression, cronyism, ethnic conflict and outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence, an international human rights organization has warned.

The international community should do more to promote justice for current and past rights abuses in Burma, and support reforms in the country’s military, judiciary and economy, the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) said in a report released on Tuesday.

“Myanmar’s transition has not yet taken root,” Patrick Pierce, a co-author of the report “Navigating Paths to Justice in Myanmar’s Transition”, said in a press release. “The military still wields significant political power and influence. The continuing dominant role of former generals and business cronies comes with a reluctance to address both ongoing and past violations.”

“After three years of reforms, initial steps are being taken to hold government and elites more accountable,” ICJT said, adding that reforms are fragile and efforts to seek justice for rights abuses are only slowly taking shape.

President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government took over from a military junta in 2011 and initiated sweeping reforms. It released political prisoners, initiated a peace process to end ethnic conflict, and promised to hold free and fair elections in 2015.

However, the Burma Army retains political powers through control over 25 percent of Parliament seats, while former junta members in the ruling party control government. The 2008 Constitution provides immunity for crimes committed under the former regime and Burma’s court system is considered as lacking independence.

The democratic transition has been marred by the Kachin conflict, a growing land rights crisis, a recent media crackdown, and large-scale right abuses against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the Arakan State and outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence elsewhere.

ICTJ’s new report offered a range of recommendations for the international community on how to support the peace process and strengthen justice in Burma.

Accountability for past and present rights abuses should be promoted through support for judiciary reform, support for training, documentation and prosecution of rights abuses, and through research into the public’s desire for justice, according to ICTJ.

The report said providing justice and reparations for victims of current and past abuses is a key step in building public confidence in Burma’s new government and important for a successful transition to a more stable, democratic and prosperous country.

The group said demands for justice for mass crimes committed under the former junta were growing.

“Calls for acknowledgement and remedy from former political prisoners and democracy activists are gaining voice, amid a flourishing of general civic activity,” the report said, noting however, that “key policy actors, national and international, have not made accountability and non-repetition measures a priority.”

ICJT warned that, “[D]emands for a reckoning with the harsher aspects of the past will continue to emerge and gain momentum. Both national and international actors could, therefore, benefit from some strategic preparedness to help ensure that this happens in constructive ways.”

The group said that in the peace process the international community should encourage the inclusion of agreements on justice for past crimes committed during ethnic conflict. “Do not support a peace agreement that includes amnesty for serious crimes,” it stated unequivocally.

Military-to-military engagement with Burma—which the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia initiated last year—should be contingent on reforms, justice, public accountability and respect for rights in the Burma Army, according to ICJT.

The report offered no specific recommendations on how the government and international community should address current and past mass rights violations carried out against the stateless Rohingya.