Summary: 6 September 2007, Brussels - In three resolutions adopted at the end of Thursday's plenary sitting, the European Parliament condemns the military crackdown on this summer's demonstrations in Burma, urges the Bangladesh Caretaker Government to accelerate the restoration of democracy and calls on the international community to guarantee continued funding for the special war crimes court in Sierra Leone.
Following the Burmese army's crackdown on protests against this summer's sharp increase in fuel prices, MEPs - in a resolution adopted by 66 votes to 0 with no abstentions - call on international actors to respond and in particular on EU Member States to press for a binding resolution at the UN.
Human rights abuses and poverty remain rife in Burma and, in a further twist, on 15 August the government withdrew fuel subsidies without warning, leading to a 500% increase in fuel prices, doubling transport costs and inflating the cost of essential goods and services. Over 100 human rights activists and peaceful protesters were arrested in the wake of the ensuing protests.
Meanwhile, the National Convention of Burma has concluded the drafting of the basic principles for a new Constitution, which the European Parliament says "lacks legitimacy and international credibility due to the absence of democratically elected representatives".
Government oppression condemned
In their resolution, MEPs voice grave concern not only at the effect of the price increase in basic commodities on Burma's population but also at the military build-up in Rangoon and the violent attacks by security forces and proxy civilian organisations.
The resolution deplores the government crackdown, which included violent attacks on civilians, particularly women. It demands "the immediate and unconditional release of all those who have been arrested since the protests began on 19 August 2007", including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, and also reiterates its longstanding demand for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The SPDC's "unremitting oppression of the Burmese people and its persistent persecution and imprisonment of pro-democracy activists" are condemned and the EP urges "cessation of the current illegitimate constitutional process, and its replacement by a fully representative National Convention including the NLD and other political parties and groups".
Tougher EU sanctions and UN resolution urged
MEPs regret that Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win, who is banned from travelling to the EU, was permitted to attend the eighth ASEM Foreign Ministers' meeting in Germany this year, only days after the military junta in Burma had extended the illegal house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi for another year.
Thus, while welcoming the renewal of EU targeted sanctions, the resolution argues that they have failed to achieve the desired impact and "calls therefore on the Council to analyse the weaknesses in the present sanctions system and to introduce further measures". All EU Member States are asked to apply rigorously the restrictive measures already agreed and to discuss measures for strengthening the EU Common Position on Burma.
In particular, the EP urges the governments of EU Member States that are members of the UN Security Council and those that are members of the UN Human Rights Council to seek backing for binding resolutions on Burma by those bodies.
Major world powers and business can play a role
Other actors could play their part, argue MEPs. China and India, as well as Russia, are asked "to use their considerable economic and political leverage with the Burmese regime in order to bring about substantial improvements in the country and, in any case, to cease the supply of weaponry and other strategic resources". And businesses which invest in Burma are urged to ensure that, in carrying out their projects, human rights are genuinely respected.
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In a resolution on Bangladesh, MEPs urge the Caretaker Government to act in accordance with the rule of law and to speed up the restoration of democracy.
Following the declaration of a state of emergency in Bangladesh on 11 January 2007 and the postponement of parliamentary elections scheduled for 22 January, after poll-related violence, the Caretaker Government, with the objective of ending corruption, introduced measures including a ban on all political activity and the detention or charging of over 160 political leaders - including three former prime ministers - and 100,000 civilians, says the EP resolution.
The EU Election Observation Mission suspended its operations on 22 January and the United Nations decided to withdraw their support for the electoral process on the same day. Bangladesh's longstanding tradition of secular democracy, including respect for human rights and especially women's rights, freedom of speech and religious tolerance, is increasingly under threat, believe MEPs.
Condemnation of police violence, concern at arrests of political leaders
The resolution therefore voices deep concern at the authorities' actions, including "the disproportionate response of the military and the police against the student protests which erupted in late August 2007 at Dhaka university".
Parliament is concerned about the arrest and justification for ongoing detention of Awami League president Sheikh Hasina and Bangladesh Nationalist Party president Khaleda Zia and about the case of Sigma Huda, who has been sentenced on bribery charges.
The EP urges the authorities to conduct the trials transparently and according to the rule of law and to allow access by international observers to all tribunals.
Bangladesh government pressed to speed up new elections
Overall, MEPs regret that "the Caretaker Government, while making progress on tackling corruption, has been far less assertive on political reform". The resolution thus "calls for a return to democracy and the lifting of the state of emergency in Bangladesh" and in particular "for the lifting of the ban on all political activity, in order to enable all parties and political organisations to prepare for open and fair elections, as provided for under the constitution". The government is asked "to reconsider its present roadmap for elections and to speed up its preparations" and also to "make progress with the creation of a National Human Rights Commission".
Parliament welcomes the EU's commitment to grant technical support to the Bangladeshi authorities for the organisation of the elections and calls for the EU election observation mission to resume its long-term activities as soon as possible. The Council and the Commission are asked to monitor carefully the human rights and political situation in Bangladesh in the light of recent events and to make representations over the continuing use of the state of emergency.
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FINANCING OF SPECIAL COURT FOR SIERRA LEONE
In a resolution on the Special Court for Sierra Leone, set up to try those responsible for war crimes in that country, Parliament urges the international community to ensure that funding for the court does not run out, particularly ahead of the crucial trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.
The court was established by an agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone to prosecute those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law in the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996, notably war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The trial against Charles Taylor - indicted on 17 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, mutilation, rape, sexual slavery and the recruitment of child soldiers - is a seen as a test case. However, his trial has been adjourned until 7 January 2008 - and the court is likely to exhaust its funding by October 2007.
Precedent-setting role of the special court
In its resolution, adopted by 69 votes to 0 with one abstention, Parliament describes the court as "a precedent-setting development in international law, as it is the first tribunal to indict a sitting African head of state for war crimes and crimes against humanity". It points out that "the fight against impunity is one of the cornerstones of the Union's human rights policy, and the international community bears responsibility for supporting it in order to promote the effectiveness of the accountability mechanisms put in place".
The inability to bring the trial of Charles Taylor to a conclusion would, say MEPs, undermine the establishment of a lasting peace in the region and also prejudice the development of international criminal justice.
Financial contributions needed urgently from all states
The court currently receives financial support from the EU through the EIDHR. In addition, EU Member States, especially the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, have contributed consistently.
Parliament urges "all States, including EU Member States, to contribute further to the operations of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in order to ensure that the Special Court can take its work to a successful conclusion". It also asks the European Commission "to provide continuing funding for the Special Court in the forthcoming national programmes with Sierra Leone" and "calls on the UN Secretary-General, in consultation with the UN Security Council, to explore all the possible financial ways to enable the Special Court to complete its crucial functions".