WASHINGTON — Human Rights Watch criticized the United Nations on Thursday for raising the possibility of Burma contributing UN peacekeepers, describing the nation’s military as among the most abusive in the world.
The New York-based group voiced its concerns in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It said that despite the democratic opening in the country, its military remains unreformed and continues to use child soldiers.
Vijay Nambiar, Ban’s special adviser on Burma, raised the issue when he met Burma’s commander-in-chief Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing in late January in the nation’s capital Naypyidaw.
“The Burmese military’s poor record on rights and civilian protection is profoundly at odds with the standards that UN peacekeepers are expected to defend around the world,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Any move by the UN to recruit Burmese forces risks grave damage to the UN’s reputation.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Thursday that the Nambiar’s talks with the Burma military chief were part of broader discussions Nambiar has been having with Burma on its reintegration into the international community.
He said like any UN member state, Burma was invited to discuss its interest with the UN peacekeeping department which would consider the request. UN forces are accountable to the highest standards in training and conduct, and thorough assessments are carried out prior to the acceptance of any uniformed personnel, he said.
Burma’s diplomatic mission at the UN did not respond to a request for comment on whether it was interested in contributing peacekeepers—a potential source of revenue and international prestige.
A UN report last May cited Burma on its list of countries that recruit children to its government forces, although it said Burma had made progress. Human Rights Watch said Thursday that while the government has signed an action plan with the UN and committed to releasing all child soldiers by the end of 2013, few have been released.
Nick Birnback, UN peacekeeping spokesman, said that when considering whether to deploy peacekeepers from a member state, the UN carefully reviews that nation’s record on recruiting child soldiers and whether it’s taking serious measures to stop it, although there’s no formal policy in the UN on barring a nation that it has cited for it.
Several Western nations, including the United States, have begun engaging Burma’s military after years of isolation, while still blocking arms exports and voicing concerns over its lingering ties with North Korea. Those nations want to encourage Burma’s military to embrace reform and submit to civilian control.
But in the letter to Ban, Human Rights Watch also cautioned against inviting Burma military officials to attend UN training or orientation sessions, saying it would signal the UN is ready to welcome Burma forces under the flag of the world body.
In January, a rights group accused Burma’s military of continuing to use rape as weapon of war, despite the democratic reforms that began three years ago. The report from the Women’s League of Burma documented more than 100 rapes, almost all in townships plagued by stubborn ethnic insurgencies.
In February, the UN rights rapporteur for Burma, Tomas Quintana, said he raised with Burma authorities allegations of rape, arbitrary detention and torture following military clashes in Kachin State and northern Shan State.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer and Peter Spielmann at the United Nations contributed to this report.