EU Council conclusions on Myanmar: what else can the EU do?
Monday 26th of February. In the morning the Foreign Affairs Council meets to discuss and adopt some resolutions as a response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Myanmar/Burma. The main outcome is short and quite disappointing: “In view of the situation, the Council invites in its conclusions the High Representative to make proposals without delay for:
- an extension of the existing embargo on arms and equipment which can be used for internal repression as well as options for its strengthening and
- targeted restrictive measures against senior military officers of the Myanmar armed forces (Tatmadaw) responsible for serious and systematic human rights violations.” (http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2018/06/myanmar-burma-council-adopts-conclusions/).
This reaction of the EU comes after 6 months of full-blown crisis and years of early warning signs which could have been tackled much in advance: the situation of the Rohingya had already been signalled in 2010 reported Adama Dieng (from the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect) during a talk on “How to Prevent Mass Atrocities” in Chatham house on 20/02/2018.
Certainly the expansion end extension of the arms embargo is crucial to reducing the weapons flow in the region, which is conducive to so much of the violence; and so are the restrictive measures against senior military officers of the Tatmadaw. But is there nothing else that an institution like the EU, which is born out of state cooperation and mutual help, can do in response to a clear case of human rights abuse, mass atrocities and ethnic cleansing as the one that is ongoing in Myanmar?
There was no talk of what sort of measures (diplomatic, financial,…) may be applied against the senior military officers in the document reporting the Council’s conclusions (http://www.consilium.europa.eu//media/32958/st06418-en18.pdf), and no proposal of banning Myanmar’s military personnel from entering the EU, as Burma Campaign UK pointed out (http://burmacampaign.org.uk/eu-burma-response-too-little-too-late/). The latter also noted how, as the Council itself pointed out that Myanmar should be placed under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and invited Myanmar’s government to subscribe to the Rome Statute, “the EU should instead be working to build international consensus for a referral to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council”. The chances of Myanmar voluntarily becoming a party to the Rome statute are, as the Council surely can expect, close to nothing, but with a UN Security Council referral, the ICC could open a case for Myanmar.
Moreover, the "Everything But Arms" (EBA) trade policy that is advocated for does not take into account that big corporation investments in other sectors of Myanmar’s economy may be damaging from a humanitarian point of view. It may not be sufficient to extend the arms embargo: rethinking EU company investments into Myanmar military-owned companies might also be necessary. A stronger stance like this could demonstrate that the EU is not prepared to do business with a regime that is condoning and denying the perpetration of mass atrocities within its own borders. Movements like Burma Campaign UK and the ‘No Business With Genocide’ Campaign (STAND and International Campaign for the Rohingya collaboration) are pushing for such changes in the business and investment sector.
It is encouraging to see the EU finally adopt a formal resolution after the first one passed in 2017 that started the arms embargo, as it shows growing interest and concern within the institution, but this reaction comes at a time when already more than 700,000 people have been forced to flee their homes by widespread violence, arson, rape, murder and famine; and more continue to flee everyday flowing into the already overcrowded camps of displaced people that take up the neighbouring border of Bangladesh, where the Rohingya are still subjected to a series of hardships, with no near prospect or possibility to safely and voluntarily return to their home country.
Faced with such a situation, the EU Council should change its pace of action and start envisioning a strategy that will have a significant impact on Myanmar’s military, maybe by evaluating measures like: precising and putting into place strong restrictions on Myanmar’s military personnel as a whole; building collaboration with other countries to work on the issue and make a case for the ICC through the UNSC; revisiting and halting EU business investments in Myanmar military-owned or controlled businesses. One thing is clear, the EU is on its way to formulating a significant response to the crisis in Myanmar, but it needs to quicken its pace.
Sources (as accessed in February 2018):
This blog post was written by Renée Bertini, who studies International Relations & World Philosophies at SOAS and is STAND UK's Digital Media Coordinator.