EU lifts sanctions against Burma


Fergal Keane has the background to the lifting of EU sanctions against Burma

The European Union has lifted the last of its trade, economic and individual sanctions against Burma in response to its political reform programme.

The sanctions were temporarily lifted last year, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi agreed Burma's progress merited the move being made permanent.

An EU foreign ministers' meeting said an arms embargo would stay in place.

It warned Burma needed to address "significant challenges", particular regarding its minority Muslims.

Human rights groups say the lifting of sanctions reduces the leverage the EU has on Burma, with Human Rights Watch's Asia head Phil Robertson describing the move as "premature and regrettable".

It came shortly after the BBC obtained police video showing officers standing by while Buddhist rioters attacked minority Muslims in the Burmese town of Meiktila. It was filmed last month, when at least 43 people were killed in Meiktila.

'It is time'

An EU statement, approved without a vote and issued at a foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg, said: "In response to the changes that have taken place and in the expectation that they will continue, the Council (of ministers) has decided to lift all sanctions with the exception of the embargo on arms."


There was unanimous support for lifting all the sanctions on Burma except the arms embargo.

The feeling is that - while things may not be perfect - it would send the wrong signal to keep sanctions in place at a time of huge change.

The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said Burma's problems are by no means over but the progress that has been made is substantial enough and serious enough for the sanctions decision to be approved. He said he'd consulted the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and she had agreed.

Sanctions are one of the main tools of EU foreign policy and there is never a perfect time to impose them or to lift them again. Critics argue that the EU is too reliant on sanctions as a means of putting pressure on other countries.

But despite the evidence of continuing violence directed against Burma's Muslim minority, it would have been a big surprise if this decision had gone any other way.

The decision came in response to political reforms implemented by President Thein Sein, who came to power after elections in November 2010. His administration has freed many political prisoners and relaxed censorship.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Burma's political progress was substantial enough and serious enough for the temporary lifting of sanctions to be made permanent.

But he told the BBC: "The work of the EU in Burma is not remotely finished. It is important to continue working on improving human rights, on improving the humanitarian situation, in helping the Burmese to address issues of ethnic violence, particularly attacks on Muslim communities."

Aung San Suu Kyi, who for years supported the sanctions against the country's military rulers, backed the EU's decision, telling the BBC the democracy movement could not depend on sanctions forever.

William Hague: "The work of the EU in Burma is not remotely finished"

"It is time we let these sanctions go," she said. "I don't want to rely on external factors forever to bring about national reconciliation which is the key to progress in our country."

Ms Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for many years, leads a pro-democracy opposition which has a small presence in parliament.

Mass graves?

Violence between Buddhists and Muslims erupted in another part of Burma, Rakhine state, last year following the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman in May.

Much of the footage was shot by the Burmese police. This report contains images of violence which you may find upsetting

Clashes in June and October resulted in the deaths of about 200 people. Thousands of people, mainly members of the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, fled their homes and remain displaced.

On Monday, the New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) presented a report containing what it said was clear evidence of government complicity in ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against Muslims in Rakhine state.

It said security forces had either stood aside or joined in when mobs attacked Muslim communities in nine townships, razing villages and killing residents.

It said HRW had discovered four mass grave sites in Rakhine state, which it said security forces had used to destroy evidence of the crimes.

However, the allegations were rejected by Win Myaing, a government spokesman for Rakhine state, AP news agency reported.

HRW investigators didn't "understand the situation on the ground," he said, adding that the government had no prior knowledge of the impending attacks, and had deployed forces to quell the unrest.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    With the sanctions lifted there will be an influx of trade and foreign people entering the country. Of which terrorist elements like Taliban agents exacting revenge for the Muslim atrocities. Burma needs to beware persecuting minorities it may bite more than it can chew.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Might find an island and claim it as a new country (as all present countries have done)

    Anyone and everyone is welcome to practice what they please, but religion will not have a say at all. Practice it, if someone isn't of the same religion, who cares. If you get angered by someone else's beliefs, then you can swim to the nearest land mass.

    No God worth worshipping promotes violence.

  • Comment number 125.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Lifting the EU sanctions is a positive move. The internal strife in Burma has been around a long time. In the past, the muslims were called communist insurgents.
    Buddhism respects all living things. But one might argue only until the self preservation rule takes effect. The self preservation rule can be skewed by overtones of religion. And where there is religion, there is always a witch hunt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Perhaps one could argue that with these sanctions now lifted this in fact makes it easier for Burma to solve its problems. After all, most conflict usually boils down to those fighting for what is scarce. Perhaps with an influx of money etc from the outside, this could in fact alleviate some of the problems in Burma... Why am I debating with myself? I think it's time to say night night.


Comments 5 of 127


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