Burma/Myanmar: Improve dialogue with civil society for a more comprehensive approach to human rights

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Last Update 12 December 2013

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Brussels, 4 December 2013

Dear Member States Ambassadors,
Dear Ms Ashton,

FIDH wishes to question the way the European External Action Service and the European Commission interpret the notion of civil society and the modalities to interact with it, notably in the context of its relations with Myanmar/Burma.

In this regard, FIDH notes serious shortcomings in the EU-Myanmar/Burma Task force held in Yangon from 13 to 15 November 2013.

In particular, FIDH regrets that:

  • No public conclusions or minutes of the debate that took place on the occasion of the civil society forum were produced. As a result, the EU missed an opportunity to support the voice of civil society participants and to ensure the effectiveness of the forum;
  • No efficient mechanism was set up to ensure that the concerns expressed during the civil society forum feed in the official dialogues and conclusions. In consequence those concerns were not addressed and were not mentioned in the joint statements with the Myanmar/Burma authorities;
  • European civil society representatives involved in monitoring EU human rights policies were either absent or not adequately represented. As a result, the forum represented a missed opportunity to facilitate network-building and information-sharing on how to engage with the EU;
  • Members of civil society attending the business forum did not include human rights organisations. Consequently, the forum failed to raise awareness among public and private sector stakeholders of the potential impact of trade and investment policies on the human rights situation in Myanmar/Burma.

In this context, FIDH regrets the unbalanced joint statement issued by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and President’s Office Minister Soe Thane at the conclusion of the EU-Myanmar Task Force on November 2013. While the joint statement reflects the interests of the private sector, it fails to mention important issues that were raised during the civil society forum, such as the need to address land grabbing and to ensure that EU investments respect human rights.

The EU failed by then to effectively and genuinely engage with civil society and to foster a comprehensive approach on human rights, despite the commitment to do so in its EU framework and action plan for human rights and democracy. FIDH believes that that the EU should more actively promote engagement with civil society and recommends to that end that the EU ensures that the terms of reference of the EU-Burma/Myanmar human rights dialogues, which are currently under discussion, guarantee that:

  • An EU-Myanmar/Burma civil society forum is organised ahead of each EU-Myanmar/Burma human rights dialogue;
  • Input from the EU-Myanmar/Burma civil society for a are made public and feed in the EU-Myanmar/Burma human rights dialogues;
  • Recommendations from the EU-Myanmar/Burma civil society forum and human rights dialogues are used to develop and fine-tune policies related to development cooperation aid, trade, and investments.

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