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U.S. Senators Demand U.S. Support for UN Commission of Inquiry in Burma (click to view PDF)

War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in Burma Should Be Stopped and Generals Held Accountable

July 30, 2010
Washington, DC
Media Contact: Jennifer Quigley at (202) 234 8022

(Washington, DC) Two days after President Obama signed into law, the one-year extension of U.S. sanctions against the military regime in Burma, that was unanimously approved by both House and Senate, a bipartisan group of 32 Senators sent a letter (as attached) to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today, calling for the United States government “to support the establishment of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry to investigate whether crimes against humanity and war crimes took place” in the Southeast Asian country of Burma.

The United States Campaign for Burma, a leading coalition of Burmese activists in exile and American human rights campaigners working to promote freedom, justice and democracy in Burma, welcomes and supports the call made by the U.S. Senators. Aung Din, former political prisoner and Executive Director of USCB urged the Obama administration “to pay strong and serious attention on Burma, where over 50 million people are suffering egregious human rights violations under the most brutal military regime for decades, and take leadership in making an UN Commission of Inquiry on Burma a reality.”

In the letter, Senators wrote to Secretary Clinton that “While your administration continues along a path of sanctions and pragmatic engagement with Burma, we believe that such a commission will help convince Burma’s military regime that we are serious about our commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law for the people of Burma”. The letter was organized by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) and cosigned by 30 other Senators including Michael Bennet (D-CO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Richard Burr (R-NC), Roland Burris (D-IL), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Robert Casey (D-PA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Al Franken (D-MN), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Kay Hagen (D-NC), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Mark Udall (D-CO), George Voinovich (R-OH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). In June 2009, nearly 60 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to President Obama urging him to take action on crimes against humanity in Burma at the UN Security Council.

“This letter addresses the frustration of U.S. lawmakers over the shortcomings of Obama’s pragmatic engagement with the regime”, says Aung Din. “Members of Congress, who have long experiences in dealing with dictatorial regimes around the world, know very well that without significant pressure and serious leadership, engagement will never produce a positive outcome,” continues Aung Din.

The U.S. Campaign for Burma and allied organizations around the world have called for the international community to establish a UN commission of inquiry to investigate war crimes and crimes humanity in Burma since May 2009, when the report, entitled “Crimes in Burma”, commissioned by five prominent international judges and war crimes prosecutors, and produced by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, was released. The report found that for years the United Nations has been on notice of severe, indeed widespread and systematic abuses in Burma that appear to rise to the level of state policy, but failed to take effective action yet. 

In March, at the 13th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Burma, Mr. Tomas Ojea Quintana of Argentina endorsed the call and urged the United Nations “to consider the possibility to establish a commission of inquiry with a specific fact finding mandate to address the question of international crimes” in Burma. Mr. Quintana’s recommendation to establish a UN commission of inquiry is supported by his two predecessors, Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (2000-2008) of Brazil (“End Burma’s System of Impunity, Opinion, The New York Times, May 27, 2009), and Professor Yozo Yokoda (1992-1996) of Japan (“Challenging Impunity in Myanmar, Opinion, The Jakarta Post, June 6, 2010).

Since Mr. Quintana made his recommendation, at least four countries, Australia, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, and Slovak Republic, expressed their support for the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry. Many other governments are also interested in potentially supporting the call, but are waiting to see what position the United States takes, whose Permanent Representative to the UN Human Rights Council, Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said in June that “the United States was considering supporting the proposed Commission of Inquiry into possible international humanitarian law violations in Burma, as suggested by the Special Rapporteur.” As organized by the USCB, thousands of activists have sent emails to President Obama since May, urging him to support the UN-led commission of inquiry in Burma. However, no one has yet to receive any response from the White House.

Read Dear Colleague Letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

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