Burma’s President Thein Sein in the Hague At Last- But not for Crimes Against Humanity

Huff Post: This week Thein Sein, President of Burma, will be visiting The Hague, in the Netherlands. As a man with a lot of blood on his hands, you might be thinking this is long overdue. But instead of being indicted at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity, Thein Sein will be receiving red carpet treatment from the Dutch government.

In a few short years, the Netherlands has gone from a country that strongly supported human rights in Burma, to a country prepared to ignore the multiple violations of international law since Thein Sein became President in 2011, and the numerous violations of international law that took place during the 14 years that he was on the ruling council of the previous military dictatorship.

A campaign poster highlights ongoing war crimes in Burma.

For a country which hosts the International Criminal Court, which incidentally is just three kilometres from the Noordeinde Palace, where Thein Sein will be meeting King Willem-Alexander, such an approach is immoral and indefensible.

Governments in Europe have tried to justify their embrace of President Thein Sein by citing the reforms he has introduced since becoming President. They argue that we have to forget the past, and focus on the future. If Burma’s leaders face prosecution for their crimes, it will endanger the reform process, they claim. There are several reasons why this argument does not stand up to scrutiny.

First, crimes have been committed and there has been no justice or reconciliation process. President Thein Sein and the rest of his government, mostly serving or former generals, have never acknowledged the human rights violations which took place and never even apologised. Thein Sein has even defended the crushing of the uprising in 1988 in which thousands were killed, saying it saved the nation. He refuses to publish his own military records for the time. Victims of those crimes deserve justice.

Second, it’s an argument devoid of any morality. Imagine if the Prime Minister of the Netherlands tried to persuade Dutch citizens that a serial killer should not be prosecuted for his crimes because he was now doing good charity work. It’s simply not a credible stance to take.


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