The wide-spread protests by monks and civilians in August/September 2007, and ensuing violent crackdown, has opened a new window of opportunity to end impunity for the ongoing crimes being perpetrated by Burma's military leadership. Burma was added for the first time to the United Nations Security Council Agenda last year. Special powers are granted under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter which allow the Security Council members heightened power to address situations that constitute a threat to international peace and security. These powers encompass addressing the most serious crimes in countries such as Burma.
The Burmese military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), continues to exercise dictatorial control over the lives of the people of Burma as it has done with impunity for over forty years, routinely employing torture, rape, slavery, murder, and mass imprisonment as tools to consolidate its power and silence any dissent. These acts go far beyond a repudiation of democracy; they are criminal violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including violations of the Geneva Conventions.
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See GJC President Janet Benshoof's article "Prosecuting Perpetrators of Grave Crimes Inflicted on the People of Burma" in LawKa PaLa, Legal Journal on Burma.
The GJC is working with the Burma Lawyers' Council to push for accountability and stronger action by the United Nations Security Council for the ongoing heinous crimes in Burma.
The Project on Criminal Accountability for Heinous Crimes in Burma aims to uphold international commitment to the rule of law and to enforce the rights to redress and criminal accountability of the people of Burma through the creation by the United Nations Security Council, under its Chapter VII power, of an Independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate possible war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. A focus on criminal investigation will reframe the dialogue from democracy and human rights to criminal accountability and will put pressure on the SPDC by alienating it from political and economic friends, such as China and Russia.
There is a growing international consensus that no safe harbor should exist for perpetrators of heinous crimes. The Project on Criminal Accountability for Heinous Crimes in Burma seeks to raise international awareness and commitment to ending impunity for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, which threaten the peace, security and well being of the world.
The Security Council's Obligation to Act under Chapter VII
Various Security Council resolutions acknowledge that state sponsored heinous crimes can constitute a threat to international peace and security. Ending impunity for crimes against women and children during conflict is underscored by the unanimous passage of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which buttresses the "Responsibility to Protect" Doctrine, adopted by the Security Council, in Resolutions 1592 and 1674 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The Genocide Convention, to which Burma is a party, requires prosecution of perpetrators and the Security Council can be seized under Article 8 for enforcement. In addition, Burma has been in a state of internal armed conflict for over forty years, devoting nearly half of its budget to maintain a standing army; thus the crimes inflicted on civilians are also violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions.
All UN efforts to engage with the junta on any level have failed, including 28 resolutions by the General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights, such as those calling for an independent investigation of such crimes as the Depayin massacre and the detailed military rapes of ethnic women. Special Advisor to the Secretary General Ibrahim Gambari is on his fourth trip since 2006. There have been six previous envoys, with the first nearly 18 years ago, in 1990. The second Special Rapporteur, Mauritian Rajsoomer Lallah, who was not allowed to enter Burma, said, "We are faced with a country which is at war with its own people." Razali Ismail, who served from 2000 to 2006, made twelve visits, stating on his resignation, "It is best to conclude that I have failed."
Over the last two decades there has been a growing consensus, not only that lawless states are a threat to security, but also that the world community has a moral and legal duty to protect people held prisoners by their own leaders. The military junta in Burma has had unbridled license to use a country and destroy a people. A Security Council Resolution under Chapter VII setting up an international criminal investigation is not a political decision, but rather a legal obligation enforcing the most fundamental of rights of the people of Burma. We urge all countries, including Burma, to cooperate with this inquiry and be part of a constructive engagement with justice
For a list of Burmese organizations calling upon the United Nations to refer the situation in Burma to the ICC, click here