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EU’s Tough Statement on Myanmar

By Ariane Combal-Weiss

17 October 2017

The EU Foreign Affairs Council this week adopted a tough statement on Myanmar talking of the “deliberate action to expel a minority” taking place in Myanmar. [1]  Although the Rohingya crisis is not new, recent months have seen a dramatic escalation of violence in the Rakhine State with over half a million Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh. This mass exodus was described by the UN as a “textbook example of an ethnic cleansing”.


In its statement, the EU expressed concern at the massive human rights abuses and bloodshed caused by the Burmese military forces. It urged the authorities to put an end to the violence and to grant access to humanitarian organisations. The EU recently granted an additional €3million to Bangladesh as a response to the crisis and stands ready to extend its assistance in the Rakhine State, should the conditions allow it.   


The statement pointed out that as an international witness to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement signed in 2015, the EU reaffirmed its support to the democratic transition and national reconciliation processes. The EU was ready to help the government implement the recommendations of the report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, in particular the issue of citizenship for stateless Rohingya. As one of the leading instigators of the UNHRC resolution on Myanmar adopted in March 2017[2], the EU exhorted the authorities to allow the deployment of an independent UN fact finding mission to investigate the alleged human rights violations.


In a bid to pressure the Burmese government to end large-scale human rights abuses, the EU and its Member States will suspend invitations to key military officers, in response to the disproportionate use of violence by the military and security forces. The arms embargo will remain while defence cooperation with Myanmar will also be reviewed.


The EU also called on the Burmese authorities to strengthen their dialogue with neighbouring countries, in particular with Bangladesh. There was only a brief reference to the possible role of ASEAN. The role of ASEAN could have been highlighted earlier by the EU. Although ASEAN member states are reluctant to intervene in the internal affairs of others the Rohingya crisis is of a scale that it threatens regional security.


[1] Council of the EU, Council Conclusions on Myanmar/Burma, 16/10/2017.

[2] United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 34/22, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/HRC/RES/34/22 (03/04/2017), available from