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U.S. Supports Commission of Inquiry into Crimes in Burma

According to reports by the Washington Post and Foreign Policy magazine’s Turtle Bay blog, the Obama administration will push for a commission of inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma. This development comes after months of grassroots campaigning and advocacy from human rights organizations, including the US Campaign for Burma, STAND, and Human Rights Watch. According to administration officials, the decision does not reverse the administration’s policy of engagement with the Burmese regime: 

The decision reflects mounting frustration that nearly two years of diplomatic outreach, including several visits by senior American diplomats to Burma, have failed to persuade the country’s military ruler, Senior Leader Than Shwe, to release Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest or to allow the political opposition to participate in the country’s upcoming election.

Two senior U.S. officials said the Obama administration reached its decision following a lengthy internal review of U.S. policy toward Burma. They also insist that the move is consistent with the U.S. policy of engagement with Burma. "We don’t see diplomacy as a reward: it’s a tool that we hope will have results," according to one of the officials.

The official said the decision to push for a commission of inquiry reflects a judgment that there is merit in allegations of mass crimes by the Burmese military, that Suu Kyi’s political party supports such a commission, and that the Burmese government failed to "come forward with steps to bring progress towards democracy." It also reflected mounting Congressional calls for tougher action against the Burmese regime.

Last month, STAND activists lobbied Senators in support of Senators Feinstein and Gregg’s Dear Colleague letter on a commission of inquiry into crimes in Burma. The letter received signatures from 32 Senators, many of whom met with STAND students.

UN Dispatch blogger Mark Leon Goldberg argues that the recent decision highlights a new opportunity for U.S. engagement with the International Criminal Court:

This kind of ICC bank shot is a good example of how the United States can constructively interact with institutions or treaty regimes that it may support, but in all likelihood will never formally join.  These kinds of strategies are going to become increasingly relevant; treaties that were once considered uncontroversial, like the CEDAW and Law of the Seas, have in today’s political climate become suddenly contentious. Unless something radically changes in the Senate, the United States will have to navigate a future in which it is in permanent observer status to these conventions, treaties and institutions.   Administrations that are supportive of these institutions in principal (as the Obama administration is with the ICC) will have to find a way to influence these structures from the sidelines.


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