Civil society gathers to brief EU diplomats on necessity for UN Commission of Inquiry for Burma

High-level discussions on the urgent need to establish a United Nations (UN) Commission of Inquiry (COI) into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma, will take place on 6 September in Brussels. The meeting is scheduled ahead of European Union (EU) representatives gathering at the Meeting of the Human Rights Working Group (COHOM) of the European Council to discuss, among other human rights issues, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on Burma for 2011, which must include a provision for a COI if its formation is to take place in the near future.

In the context of the widely-held view that such a COI could help reduce human rights abuses in Burma, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and the Open Society Foundations, organised the meeting to provide expert opinions on the establishment of a COI to those with responsibility for deciding the stipulations of the UNGA resolution on Burma; EU member states. To this end the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, together with representatives from Burma Campaign UK, the Burma Lawyers’ Council, the International Federation of Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch will brief EU diplomats.

The experts will summarise the current human rights situation in Burma, taking into account recent political developments there, and explain why a COI is the best way forward for deterring the commission of further crimes and ensuring justice for victims. Crimes reported include murder, systematic rape, sexual violence, torture, the recruitment of children as soldiers, warrantless detention, widespread forced relocations and forced labour. The technicalities of such a COI, including the terms of reference, will also be discussed.

Dr Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association said, ‘The Burmese people have suffered grave human rights violations for more than 20 years. The perpetrators act with immunity in an environment absent of action by the international community.  The United Nations General Assembly should act promptly and decisively to establish a UN commission of enquiry into human rights abuses in Burma.’ He added, ‘A transparent, impartial and independent UN commission of inquiry is an established tool for investigating allegations of international crimes committed by all parties to a conflict.   Establishing a commission for Burma would be a crucial and long overdue step in bringing accountability to Burma.’

Mr Quintana recently stated that, ‘Justice and accountability measures, as well as measures to ensure access to the truth, are fundamental for Myanmar to face its past and current human rights challenges, and to move forward towards national reconciliation.’

The briefing will take place at the Open Society Institute – Brussels, 9-13 Rue d’Idalie, B-1050 Brussels, between 12h00 and 13h30 (local time) under the Chatham House Rule. If you would like to interview any of the speakers after the meeting please contact the moderator, Shirley Pouget of the International Bar Association at or on mobile +447738418676.

The Speakers:

  • Mr Tomás Ojea Quintana, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, (via video-link);
  • Mr Neil Campbell, Head of EU Policy Development, Open Society Institute-Brussels;
  • Mr Gregoire Thery, Permanent Representative to the European Union, International Federation of Human Rights;
  • Ms Lotte Leicht, European Union Director, Human Rights Watch;
  • Ms Zoya Phan, Campaign Manager, Burma Campaign UK; and
  • Mr U Aung Htoo, Secretary General, Burma Lawyers’ Council.


For further information please contact:

Romana St. Matthew - Daniel
Press Office
International Bar Association

4th Floor, 10 St Bride Street,
London EC4 4AD

Mobile: +44 (0)7940 731 915
Direct Line: +44 (0)20 7842 0094
Main Office: +44 (0)20 7842 0090
Fax: +44 (0)20 7842 0091


Notes for editors

The Chatham House Rule:
‘When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.’

The Human Rights Working Group (COHOM) was created under the Council of the European Union in 1987 (with the extension of its mandate in 2003) and is responsible for human rights issues in the EU's external relations.

It is composed of human rights experts from Member States and the European Commission.
Click here to read the text of the mandate..

The Human Rights Working Group meets regularly. The agendas of meetings cover the various aspects of the EU's human rights policy such as action in international fora, dialogues with third countries, thematic issues and mainstreaming. The agenda always includes standing items on human rights situations of urgent concern. COHOM promotes the systematic inclusion of human rights issues in the agenda of expert’s meetings on thematic issues and at summits between the EU and third countries.