Burma Campaign UK today launches a new poster campaign to highlight how the British government’s new soft engagement policy on Burma is failing to deliver human rights improvements.
The first poster in the series highlights how Thein Sein broke his promise while visiting the UK last year to release all political prisoners by the end of 2013. Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague have been silent about Thein Sein breaking his word to them and keeping political prisoners in jail.
Further posters will be released on a regular basis in the coming year, highlighting further examples where British policy is failing.
The British government has performed a dramatic U-turn in Burma policy since Thein Sein became President, reversing a decade’s long policy of prioritising human rights. Trade and investment are now the priority for the British government.
Since the British government changed its policy of prioritising human rights in Burma, and instead prioritised trade and investment, the British government has tended to downplay serious human rights abuses, or even ignore them altogether. The tone of the British government is now generally positive, and is not critical of the Burmese government.
So keen is the British government to present the current situation in the best possible light that it even goes so far as to make false statements about the Burmese government’s actions on human rights, and uncritically quotes statements by the Burmese government which it knows to be false.
This appears in part to be in order to try to avoid criticism of the current soft engagement Burma policy, which is focused on building a closer relationship with the government of Burma in order to win more business contracts from the Burmese government.
There is no doubt that there have been dramatic changes in Burma in the past two years, and that there is opportunity for further change that must be encouraged. However, policy must be carefully calibrated taking into account the wide disparity between words and actions. Burma still has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Since Thein Sein became President, human rights abuses which violate international law have actually increased.
“This new campaign highlights how the British government’s approach of befriending President Thein Sein encourages him to think he can get away with human rights abuses, rather than end them,” said Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK. “As Britain and other countries relax pressure on Thein Sein, there is a corresponding slowdown in the pace of reform.”
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