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May 21, 2009, 12:00 am United States Eastern Time

World’s Leading Jurists Call for Investigation into


Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes in Burma

New report from Harvard Law School finds that UN documents on Burma provide grounds for
investigation into international crimes; calls for more concerted UN action on Burma

Cambridge, Mass. – Five of the world’s leading international jurists have commissioned a report
from the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, calling for the UN Security
Council to act on more than fifteen years of condemnation from other UN bodies on human rights
abuses in Burma. The Harvard report, Crimes in Burma, comes in the wake of renewed
international attention on Burma, with the continued persecution of Nobel Peace Prize recipient
Aung San Suu Kyi. The report concludes with a call for the UN Security Council to establish a
Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.

The Harvard report is based on an analysis of scores of UN documents – including UN General


Assembly and Commission on Human Rights resolutions, as well as reports from several
different Special Rapporteurs. These indicate that human rights abuses in Burma are widespread,
systematic, and part of state policy – legal terms that justify further investigation and strongly
suggest Burma’s military regime may be committing crimes against humanity and war crimes
prosecutable under international law. Major abuses cited by the United Nations include forced
displacement of over 3,000 villages in eastern Burma, and widespread and systematic sexual
violence, torture, and summary execution of innocent civilians.

Yet, despite such documentation from multiple UN organs, the UN Security Council has not
moved to investigate potential crimes against humanity or war crimes in Burma, as it has in other
areas of the world, including Darfur and Rwanda.

“Over and over again, UN resolutions and Special Rapporteurs have spoken out about the abuses
that have been reported to them in Burma. The UN Security Council, however, has not moved the
process forward as it should and has in similar situations such as those in the former Yugoslavia
and Darfur,” the jurists write in the report’s preface. “In the cases of Yugoslavia and Darfur, once
aware of the severity of the problem, the UN Security Council established a Commission of
Inquiry to investigate the gravity of the violations further. With Burma, there has been no such
action from the UN Security Council despite being similarly aware of the widespread and
systematic nature of the violations.”

The five jurists who commissioned the report, from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South
Africa, are Judge Richard Goldstone (South Africa), Judge Patricia Wald (United States), Judge
Pedro Nikken (Venezuela), Judge Ganzorig Gombosuren (Mongolia), and Sir Geoffrey Nice
(United Kingdom). Among other accomplishments, Judge Goldstone served on South Africa’s
Constitutional Court and was the first prosecutor at both the International Criminal Tribunals for
the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. Judge Wald served as Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the District of Columbia and as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the
former Yugoslavia. Judge Nikken served as President of the Inter-American Court of Human
Rights. Judge Gombosuren served as a Supreme Court Justice in Mongolia, and Sir Nice was the
deputy prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the
principal prosecution trial attorney in the case against Slobodan Milosevic in the Hague.

Each of the five jurists has dealt directly with severe human rights abuses in the international
system, and all five call for the UN Security Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry to
investigate and report on crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.

The Harvard report specifically examines four international human rights violations documented
by UN bodies over the past fifteen years: sexual violence, forced displacement, torture, and
extrajudicial killings. The report focuses on UN documents since 2002, to allow examination of
the most up-to-date UN material, although UN reports dating back to 1992 have consistently
condemned a wide-range of violations in Burma.

Tyler Giannini, the Clinical Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School and
one of the report’s authors, said its findings clearly demonstrate that a Commission of Inquiry on
Burma should proceed.

“The UN Security Council has taken action regarding Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sudan when it
identified information strongly suggesting the existence of crimes against humanity and war
crimes,” said Giannini. “As our research shows, UN documents clearly and authoritatively
suggest that the human rights abuses occurring in Burma are not isolated incidents – they are
potential crimes against humanity and war crimes. Failure by the UN Security Council to take
action and investigate these crimes could mean that violations of international criminal law will
go unchecked.”

For more information on Crimes in Burma, or to view a copy of the report, visit
http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/hrp.

For media interviews in the United States, please contact Michael Jones at 617-595-7868 or
mijones@law.harvard.edu, or Julianne Stevenson at 617-682-5519 or
jstevenson@llm09.law.harvard.edu. For media interviews in Thailand, please contact Tyler
Giannini at +66 89 020 6646 or giannini@law.harvard.edu.

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The International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program is a
center for scholarship and advocacy on human rights. Each year, the Clinic undertakes dozens of
human rights projects in partnership with organizations around the globe, focusing on litigation,
fact-finding investigations, legal and policy analysis, and report drafting for international
oversight bodies.