European Scrutiny Committee Contents


53 Restrictive measures against the regime in Burma

(31494)

Council Decision 2010/232/CFSP of 26 April 2010 renewing restrictive measures against Burma/Myanmar

Legal baseArticle 215 TFEU; QMV
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationEM of 2 June 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone; but see (31405) —: HC 5-xiv (2009-10), chapter 5 (17 March 2010); (30854) —: HC 19-xxvi (2008-09), chapter 17 (10 September 2009); (30542)—: HC 19-xiv (2008-09), chapter 12 (22 April 2009); (29621) —: HC 16-xix (2007-08), chapter 9 (23 April 2008); (29368) 5401/08: HC 16-xi (2007-08), chapter 9 (6 February 2008); and (29083) —: HC 16-ii (2007-08), chapter 21 (14 November 2007)
To be discussed in Council26 April 2010 Foreign Affairs Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared

Background

53.1 Starting with Common Position 1996/635/CFSP, the EU has adapted and strengthened its sanctions regime against Burma over the years in response to deteriorating circumstances on the ground and the continuing failure by the government of Burma to make progress on human rights and national reconciliation. In line with EU sanctions policy the EU has worked to achieve change in Burma by placing pressure on those responsible for its policies, whilst minimising any adverse impact on the general population.

53.2 In 2006, EU Common Position 2006/340/CFSP imposed the following measures:

—  a visa ban and assets freeze against named members of the military regime, the military and security forces, the military regime's economic interests and other individuals, groups, undertakings or entities associated with the military regime and their families;

—  a visa ban against serving members of the military of the rank of Brigadier-General and above;

—  a comprehensive embargo on arms and equipment that might be used for internal repression and ban on military personnel being attached to diplomatic representations in and from Burma;

—  a ban on high-level bilateral government visits at the level of Political Director and above;

—  a suspension of most non-humanitarian aid; and

—  prohibition on EU companies making finance available to, or extending participation in, named Burmese state-owned companies, their joint ventures and subsidiaries.

53.3 In view of further deterioration of the situation in Burma, the EU adopted Common Position 2007/750/CFSP on 19 November 2007 (which the previous Committee cleared on 14 November 2007). This provided for new restrictive measures concerning certain imports from, exports to and investments in Burma/Myanmar, targeting its timber and extractive industries, which provide sources of revenue for the military regime. It also broadened the scope of the existing restrictions on investment by applying them also in respect of investment in enterprises owned or controlled by persons or entities associated with the military regime, and broadened the categories of persons targeted by the freezing of funds and economic resources.[224]

53.4 Then, on 6 February 2008, the previous Committee cleared a revised Council Regulation which

  • extended the current restrictive measures which provide sources of revenue for the military regime of Burma/Myanmar in respect of;

—  extending and updating persons subject to a travel ban;

—  the freezing of their assets; and

—  extending and updating the list of enterprises in Burma subject to an investment ban.

  • proposed additional restrictive measures;

—  an export ban on the industrial sectors of logs and timber and defined metals, minerals, precious and semiprecious stones; to include diamonds, rubies, sapphires, jade and emeralds (the Regulation will now include finished products with an exemption for personal items of jewellery);

—  an import ban on products from the above mentioned sectors;

—  an investment ban on new trade in the above mentioned sectors; and

—  the provision of technical assistance or training related to relevant equipment and technology destined for enterprises in the above industries in Burma/Myanmar.

53.5 This was subsequently adopted as Council Regulation 194/2008.

53.6 Later, on 21 April 2008, the previous Committee cleared Common Position 2008/349/CFSP, which renewed the current restrictive measures on sources of revenue for the military regime for a further 12 months and amended the Annexes in respect of:

—  updating persons subject to a travel ban (with the inclusion of members of the judiciary) who are responsible for implementing acts of repression by the regime;

—  the freezing of their assets; and

—  updating the list of enterprises in Burma subject to an investment ban by adding a further 30 names to the list.

53.7 The Common Position that the previous Committee considered on 23 April 2009 essentially extended the existing Common Position for a further 12 months. Both the list of entities subject to an asset freeze and the list of persons subject to an asset freeze/travel ban were updated (e.g. to take account of changes within the government). Apart from these changes, the restrictive measures were renewed as they were for a further 12 months.

53.8 In her supporting Explanatory Memorandum of 16 April 2009, the then Minister (Caroline Flint) recalled that the Council adopted these restrictive measures after the violent suppression of peaceful protesters in November 2007 — the so-called "Saffron Revolution" — as well as the continued human rights abuses in Burma and detention of over 1100 political prisoners. This was, she again said, consistent with EU policy to increase pressure on the military regime to enter into a meaningful and genuine dialogue with the democratic opposition, whose ultimate aim is the eventual transition to civilian rule and full respect of human rights, including the release of political prisoners and recognition of the rights of ethnic communities.

53.9 The then Minister strongly supported renewal "as it binds the 27 Member States to a robust policy in support of political change in Burma"; extension for a further 12 months was warranted by the lack of improvement of the human rights situation and the lack of substantive progress towards an inclusive democratisation process: "the Burmese military have failed to meet the demands of the international community and continue to violate human rights, including by continuing to detain and sentence democracy campaigners", and that "there are now estimated to be over 2200 political prisoners."

53.10 Then, in his Explanatory Memorandum of 12 August 2009, the then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Ivan Lewis) explained that on 13 May 2009 Aung San Suu Kyi (thereafter referred to as ASSK) was arrested for violating the terms of her house arrest:

"This violation was as a result of an American man who swam across the lake surrounding her house, he says, to warn her that her life was in danger. ASSK's house arrest was due to expire at the end of the month and it is widely accepted that the Burmese authorities are using the opportunity offered by this event to ensure ASSK cannot participate in elections due in Burma early next year."

53.11 The then Minister recalled that in June and July the previous Committee was forewarned that:

—  should ASSK be found guilty the EU, with the UK's full support, would seek to impose further sanctions upon the Burmese regime;

—  after much delaying, a guilty verdict was delivered on 11 August; and

—  under the proposed new measures, the four individuals overseeing ASSK's trial would be added to the list of those subject to a travel ban and asset freeze within the EU; several new entities, most notably the media organisations responsible for the Burmese junta's propaganda, would be subject to an asset freeze; and 48 other entities currently subject to an investment ban had also been identified to have any assets held within the EU frozen.

53.12 Having explained how the procedures for designating individuals were fully compliant with fundamental rights and noted the consistency of these measures with EU policy, often led by the UK, to increase pressure on the military regime in Burma to enter into a meaningful and genuine dialogue with the democratic opposition, with the ultimate aim of the eventual transition to civilian rule and full respect of human rights, including the release of political prisoners and recognition of the rights of ethnic communities, the then Minister concluded by saying that the Common Position would be adopted on 13 August 2009.

The previous Committee's assessment

53.13 At its meeting on 10 September 2009, the previous Committee acknowledged the endeavours of the Minister for Europe to forewarn the Committee, accepted the particular circumstances that had led to this breach of scrutiny, and cleared the document.

53.14 It also reported these further proposals because of the widespread interest in the situation in Burma in the House.

53.15 With that interest in mind, the previous Committee also once again reminded the then Minister that such Explanatory Memoranda should also outline the wider context, and any action that had been and was being taken by the government, the EU or other countries — in this instance, in relation to China, without whose support it was difficult to see these further measures making any more impact than had the previous ones. The previous Committee noted that it would have liked to know, for example, if the situation in Burma had been discussed during the most recent EU-China Summit; and if so, what the Chinese response was.

53.16 In the meantime, the previous Committee left it to others to judge what the likely impact of these additional measures would be, though found it difficult to be optimistic in the light of a recent US$5.6 billion deal between China and Burma, with the help of Indian and South Korean companies, to supply China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) with gas for 30 years.[225][226]

The then Minister for Europe's letter 25 February 2010

53.17 On 25 February 2010, the then Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant) wrote to inform the Committee that, with the current EU Common Position on Burma and the restrictive measures it contains due to expire on 30 April 2010, negotiations to secure the rollover of these restrictive measures were about to begin.

53.18 After reiterating the circumstances that led to their imposition in 1996 and recalling the most recent changes to the EU's Common Position in August 2009, he went on to say that in late 2009, the Burmese authorities "showed some willingness to engage with Aung Sang Suu Kyi and the international community", e.g. in October, Aung San Suu Kyi was permitted to meet the British Ambassador, in his capacity as the EU representative, for the first time in six years, and to discuss western sanctions along with American and Australian officials; and also allowed to meet US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell in early November. These "small but welcome developments" were followed up in December, when Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, representing the EU Presidency, met his Burmese counterpart in the margins of the Copenhagen conference, and preparations were underway for a senior officials visit to Burma:

"However dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi has since stalled and the regime has failed to engage with the US or EU on any issues of substance. The recent release of National League for Democracy Vice-Chairman U Tin Oo, whilst welcome, does not change the fact that we have seen minimal progress towards the changes that we are looking for."

53.19 Given that HMG's position was, the then Minister said, that there should be no easing of sanctions in the absence of tangible progress, the Government would therefore look for a renewal of the Common Position for a further 12 months — a position upon which, although formal discussion of the issue had not yet begun, he said there appeared to be a broad consensus amongst Member States.

53.20 Responding to the previous Committee's expressed interest in its earlier reports in UK and EU engagement with other parties, particularly China, to try and secure change within Burma, the then Minister also said:

"We continue to actively encourage Burma's regional neighbours, including China, Japan and members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to press for a transition to democracy. As previously noted, the Foreign Secretary attended the meeting of the UN Secretary General's Group of Friends on Burma in September 2009, where he stressed that all members, including China, must continue to use their influence to encourage the regime to commit to a path of reconciliation and change. The Prime Minister subsequently raised Burma with Prime Minister Hatayoma of Japan on 26 November 2009, and he and PM Hatoyama agreed on the importance of Aung San Suu Kyi's release and full participation in the democratic process.

"The Government has repeatedly raised the issue of Burma with ASEAN members. We engaged the Vietnamese government both before and as it took over the chairmanship of ASEAN for 2010, making clear how important its robust leadership on Burma is, and highlighting the need for ASEAN to sustain its calls for the release of political prisoners and credible elections. The Foreign Secretary raised Burma with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Hai in London on 21 October 2009, and in a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs in January 2010 as Vietnam assumed the ASEAN chairmanship. Most recently, the Foreign Secretary raised Burma with the new Indonesian Foreign Minister during a telephone conversation on 8 January 2010. Burma remains a key foreign policy area for the UK Government and we will continue to do all we can, including through Burma's neighbours, to secure a transition to democracy."

53.21 The previous Committee thanked the then Minister for this information and looked forward to hearing about the outcome of the negotiations, and also updates on supporting actions in the wider context, particularly regarding China, and the responses of those approached for support.

53.22 In the meantime, the previous Committee drew all this to the attention of the House because of the widespread interest in this matter.

The Council Decision

53.23 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 2 June 2010, the Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (David Lidington) now says that, despite the signs in late 2009 that the Burmese authorities were more willing to engage with ASSK and the international community, the recently-released new electoral laws, designed to prevent credible opposition in the upcoming elections, suggest that nothing has changed. The Government's position was, he further says, therefore that there should be no easing of sanctions in the absence of tangible progress and a renewal of the Common Position (now a Decision) for a further 12 months, which found a broad consensus amongst Member States and was adopted on 26 April.

53.24 The Minister also notes that the only changes will be updating the language to reflect the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty and the list of those individuals/entities subject to these measures to reflect changes that have occurred in Burma over the last year. He goes on to say that these measures are consistent with EU policy, often led by the UK, to increase pressure on the military regime to enter into a meaningful and genuine dialogue with the democratic opposition — the ultimate aim being the eventual transition to civilian rule and full respect of human rights, including the release of political prisoners and recognition of the rights of ethnic communities.

53.25 The Minister then recalls the previous Committee's interest in the Government's engagement with others, principally China, on this matter, and says:

"The Foreign Secretary raised Burma with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang during his recent visit to Beijing. In addition, officials at the British Embassy met in March with Chinese counterparts to discuss the recently announced Burmese election laws. We continue to encourage China to use its influence to press for genuine political reform in Burma. China maintains its policy of non-interference in Burma's affairs, but did agree to a UK instigated Security Council discussion on recent developments on 24 March. China also participated in a meeting of the UN Secretary General's Group of Friends of Burma the following day, allowing Ban Ki-moon to make a strong statement of concern about the prospects for free and fair elections in Burma. The Government has also repeatedly raised the issue of Burma with ASEAN members. For example, we engaged the Vietnamese government both before and as it took over the chairmanship of ASEAN for 2010, making clear how important its robust leadership on Burma is, and highlighting the need for ASEAN to sustain its calls for the release of political prisoners and credible elections."

Conclusion

53.26 The previous Committee has normally not regarded the straightforward extension of existing measures in response to well-known circumstances as warranting a substantive Report to the House. But, given the traditionally high level of interest in the House in developments in Burma, we felt that the Minister's remarks about the new governments' maintenance of representations to China and ASEAN warrant one in this instance.

53.27 We now clear the document. In so doing, we recognise that the Dissolution and consequent lack of a Scrutiny Committee militated against the Minister withholding agreement to this Decision until it had been scrutinised by the Committee, and do not object, on this occasion and in these circumstances, to the action that he took in agreeing to its adoption prior to scrutiny.





224   See headnote. Back

225   See http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/natural_resources/article6809986.ece for further information. Back

226   See headnote: (30854) -: HC 19-xxvi (2008-09), chapter 17 (10 September 2009). Back


 
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