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FAAE Committee Report

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GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE TWELFTH REPORT OF
THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT ENTITLED
“CONFLICTING REALITIES: REFORM, REPRESSION AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN BURMA”

The Government of Canada has carefully considered the Twelfth Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (the report).

The Government would like to thank the members of the Committee for the opportunity to participate in the hearings leading up to the publication of this report, as well as the opportunity to respond to the recommendations contained in the report.  The Government would also like to thank the Committee for its efforts in preparing the report and welcomes the continuing interest of the Committee on issues related to human rights in Burma.

After decades of military rule, human rights abuses, and the resulting sanctions and isolation from much of the international community, the past two years have been a period of unprecedented change in Burma.  Significant political and economic reforms have been initiated, peace and reconciliation discussions have been renewed after decades of civil war, and tangible improvements in the overall human rights situation have taken place.  However, despite this overall positive trajectory, a number of serious concerns and challenges remain.  Human rights abuses continue to be documented.  Sporadic fighting between government forces and ethnic armed groups and resulting displacement continues in some parts of the country, ongoing conflict-related sexual violence remains unaddressed, and inter-communal violence has flared up on several occasions in recent months.  The prospects for peace, prosperity, and democracy in Burma are encouraging, but far from certain. 

In this context, the Government of Canada has welcomed recent positive developments in Burma while encouraging the authorities to pursue further reforms. There have been a number of notable developments in the bilateral relationship over the past two years.  Minister Baird visited Burma in March 2012 and Minister Fast visited in September 2012: the first-ever visits by a Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of International Trade respectively. Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin visited Ottawa in early October 2012. In July 2012, Minister Baird announced Canada's intention to open an Embassy in Burma, and these plans are currently being implemented.  Minister Fast later announced that the Embassy staff would include a Senior Trade Commissioner.  Canada’s first-ever resident Ambassador to Burma was appointed in March 2013 and accredited in August 2013.

Burma has taken positive first steps toward democratic development and change.  The Government of Canada responded to initial progress with the suspension of most economic sanctions in April 2012.  Most prohibitions in the 2007 Special Economic Measures (Burma) Regulations (the “Burma Regulations”) were removed, including those pertaining to exports, imports, financial services and investment.  Burma was also removed from the Area Control List, meaning that exports to Burma of goods and technologies which are not included on the Export Control List (ECL) no longer require an export permit issued by the Minister of Foreign Affairs under the authority of the Export and Import Permits Act. However, the amended Burma Regulations still include sanctions against certain listed individuals and entities, and forbid trade in arms and related material as well as related technical and financial assistance.  The suspension of sanctions signaled Canada’s support for the reform efforts being undertaken in Burma, and made it easier for Canada and Canadians to become more actively engaged in supporting further reform and development efforts. 

Canada will continue to work with allies and partners in the international community, and will continue to support those Burmese working inside and outside Burma, to promote human rights, fundamental freedoms and a transition to genuine democracy.

Below is the Government’s response to the specific recommendations made by the Committee.

Recommendations to the Government of Canada aimed at strengthening respect for human rights in Burma

Recommendation 1

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada support Burma’s transition to democracy by continuing to raise human rights issues with the Government of Burma at all appropriate opportunities. In particular, the Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada raise concerns in respect of the following:

  • Continued restrictions on freedom of expression, including restrictions on media freedom;
  • Continued prevalence of extra-judicial executions and excessive use of force by security forces;
  • Continued use of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment by security forces;
  • Prison conditions that amount to cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment or which do not respect the inherent dignity and humanity of detainees;
  • The mandate and powers of the National Human Rights Commission, which do not currently meet the standards set out in the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles);
  • The prevalence of land confiscation without adequate compensation and the violation of the right to adequate housing;
  • Continued use of forced labour, particularly in connection with large-scale development projects and in the context of activities undertaken by the military;
  • Continued use of child soldiers;
  • Continued use of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict and the ongoing impunity for perpetrators;
  • Discriminatory educational practices and policies that prevent children of some ethnic minority groups from enjoying their right to education.

Recommendation 2

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to advocate for religious freedom in all regions of Burma. As part of this advocacy, the Subcommittee further recommends that the Government of Canada encourage the Government of Burma to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to visit the country and to give him unfettered access to ethnic minority areas.

Recommendation 3

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to stress to the Government of Burma and to Members of the Burmese Parliament, in all appropriate forums, the urgent need to undertake constitutional and legislative changes to conform to international human rights standards, and the need to reform the judiciary. The Burmese Parliament should play an important role in studying and adopting such reforms. In addition, reforms should be undertaken in consultation with civil society organizations, religious communities, and other civilian stakeholders.

The Subcommittee further recommends that the Government of Canada consider ways that it could contribute Canadian knowledge and expertise to international efforts to assist Burma to build its capacity to ensure the rule of law within its borders.

Recommendation 4

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to press for the immediate and unconditional release of all those imprisoned on the basis of the peaceful exercise of their human rights, including their political opinions, ethnicity or religion.

Recommendation 5

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue its long-standing support of Burmese political dissidents and human rights defenders, including those facing persecution within Burma.

Recommendation 6

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada urge the Government of Burma to demonstrate a clear commitment to upholding universal human rights standards by ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other core international human rights treaties and by cooperating with United Nations human rights mechanisms and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Government of Canada welcomes the Committee’s recommendations aimed at strengthening respect for human rights in Burma. The specific issues mentioned in these recommendations already form an integral part or could in future form an integral part of Canada’s engagement with the Government of Burma both bilaterally and through multilateral fora such as the UN Human Rights Council, or can be considered.  Respect for human rights and the rule of law are central to Canada’s engagement and policy goals in Burma.  Canada has welcomed reforms and developments which have led to some improvements in the human rights situation in Burma over the past two years.  For example, while continuing to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Burma, Canada has welcomed the release of hundreds of such prisoners since 2011, the resumption of access to prisons by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the government’s stated commitment to review outstanding cases and release any remaining political prisoners by the end of this year. 

However, we continue to have a number of serious concerns on human rights matters such as those that the Committee has highlighted in its report.  Canadian officials regularly and consistently emphasize this messaging to Burmese officials at all levels, and will continue to raise specific concerns at every appropriate opportunity.  Officials also meet regularly with members of opposition parties, ethnic minority groups, non-governmental organizations and human rights activists both within and outside Burma to discuss recent developments and areas of ongoing concern.  The recent accreditation of Canada’s first-ever resident Ambassador to Burma, and the forthcoming opening of Canada’s new embassy in Burma, will increase Canada’s opportunities to engage with the Burmese authorities, elected officials (including members of opposition parties), and civil society (including human rights activists) on these issues.

Through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development’s (DFATD) $15.9 million support to Building Social Capital: Burma Border Assistance Program (2010-2015), Canada is assisting more than 50 civil society organizations to improve their capacities to engage with Burma’s parliamentarians and government on issues of human rights and the democratic development of their communities. 

Since 2007, DFATD’s Global Peace and Security Fund (GPSF) has provided more than $1.8 million in funding to support civil society and democracy initiatives for Burma, with a focus on support for media freedom. Prior to 2012, the GPSF’s focus in Burma was centered on providing independent news coverage to the citizens of Burma through $1.4 million in support to expatriate Burmese media outlets.  In particular, Canada provided over $750,000 in support of projects aimed at strengthening independent media within Burma during a crucial time for democracy, following the Saffron Revolution of 2007 and during the 2010 national elections. These projects increased the amount of independent information and election coverage available to citizens in Burma during the 2010 election process. Following Canada’s suspension of most sanctions in 2012, the GPSF supported a project with a prominent local independent media organization, Mizzima News Agency, which aimed to reinforce and provide further momentum to media reform efforts through the provision of training on media laws, as well as the publication of a Burmese news journal. The GPSF continues to explore projects that build on past GPSF support for media freedom, including by improving the ability of Burmese legislative drafters to develop media laws and engage more meaningfully in media law reform.

In 2013-14 DFATD’s GPSF is providing funding to democracy and peace support initiatives valued at an additional $1.8 million, and is considering new initiatives to build on past investment in media freedom.

Recommendations to the Government of Canada regarding the need to strengthen democratic reforms in Burma

Recommendation 7

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to support Burma’s transition to democracy, in particular by promoting a program of inter-parliamentary contacts between Burmese and Canadian parliamentarians.

Recommendation 8

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to impress upon its Burmese counterparts the vital importance of holding fully free and fair elections in 2015 and of allowing complete access to independent, international election observation missions during these elections. The 2015 elections must be free and fair not only in central Burma, but also in the ethnic minority areas on Burma’s borders.

The Government of Canada agrees with the Committee’s recommendations regarding the need to strengthen democratic reforms in Burma. As with the human rights and rule of law issues noted above, democratic development issues are an integral part of Canadian foreign policy priorities in Burma.  Canada has welcomed reforms over the past two years, which have led to, inter alia, the election of Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her party to Parliament in April 2012, and increased opportunities for parliamentarians from various political parties to participate meaningfully in the political process.  We have also noted improvements in press freedoms over the past two years, including the official abolition of the country’s censorship office.  However, a number of serious challenges remain, and Canada encourages the authorities to take additional steps towards greater democracy for the people of Burma.  The support to democracy, including the strengthening of Burma’s new Parliament and the importance of free and fair elections, will continue to form a centerpiece of Canada’s engagement in Burma for the foreseeable future.  Canadian officials will continue to engage with Burmese government and non-government actors on these issues, and to seek opportunities for Canada to provide capacity-building support. 

The response highlights DFATD initiatives that are in place to increase the capacity of parliament, local governments, and civil society to support Burma’s transition to democracy, as well as new initiatives that are currently under development to strengthen the rule of law, support independent media, build the capacity of civil society, and facilitate the peace process. Canada has increased the knowledge and capacity of democratic actors and the people of Burma, with contributions of more than $1.8 million over five years to independent media, civil society and other groups through DFATD’s GPSF, and with Canada’s $15.9 million support to Building Social Capital: Burma Border Assistance Program (2010-2015).

In addition to the media freedom support outlined above, other areas of focus for the GPSF in Burma since 2012 have included building the capacity of parliament and strengthening the rule of law in support of Burma’s democratic transition. Since 2012, the GPSF has been supporting projects in Burma with the Forum of Federations aimed at enhancing knowledge and dialogue among key stakeholders on the practice of democracy and power-sharing in ethnically and culturally diverse contexts, an issue which will be critical to any future discussions on changing the constitution. In addition, in early 2013 the GPSF supported a reciprocal multi-party parliamentary exchange of Canadian and Burmese parliamentarians focused on strengthening the capacity of Burmese parliamentarians to represent and serve Burmese citizens within a multi-party democratic system and assist Burma in building a more inclusive and accountable model of governance. The GPSF continues to explore projects that build the capacity of parliament, particularly women parliamentarians, with a focus on strengthening the rule of law through improved budgetary oversight, as well as enhancing engagement between parliamentarians and civil society organizations, religious communities, ethnic minority groups, and other civilian stakeholders. Further programming initiatives in this area are currently under consideration, particularly as the elections in 2015 draw near. Such programming would seek to support free and fair elections not only in central Burma, but also in the ethnic minority regions on Burma’s borders.

Under the Burma Border Assistance Program, in the lead-up to the 2010 general elections in Burma, project partners worked with the Asian Network for Free Elections and the National Democratic Institute to train groups from inside Burma in election monitoring and reporting.  Prior to the 2010 elections, eleven ethnic states media organizations supported by Canada’s Building Social Capital initiative launched an elections portal (www.burmaelection2010.com) which presented information, news and analysis of the election on a daily basis over a four month period. In 2012, these media organizations established an ‘election news room’ which published daily news on the election and a detailed pre-election report for the April 1 by-elections. It is envisioned that similar activities will be supported for the 2015 general elections. 

Recommendations to the Government of Canada aimed at addressing the need for national reconciliation and an end to ethnic conflict in Burma

Recommendation 9

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada call on the Government of Burma and all non-state armed groups operating in the country to engage in honest and sincere negotiations with a view to reaching durable ceasefires, including agreements in respect of a principled and staged withdrawal of troops and fighters from conflict zones.

The Subcommittee further recommends that the Government of Canada stress to the civilian government of Burma the vital need to maintain the ceasefire in Kachin State and to ensure that negotiations between representatives of the Burmese government and the Kachin people proceed on the basis of good faith, mutual respect, and a desire to accommodate the aspirations of the Kachin within a united Burma.

Recommendation 10

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to press the Government of Burma to undertake a meaningful and inclusive process of national reconciliation with ethnic minority groups that includes:

  • reaching a negotiated political settlement to armed conflicts;
  • effectively investigating serious crimes and human rights violations; and,
  • ensuring some form of accountability for perpetrators and remedies for victims.

This reconciliation process should also include dialogue with all stakeholders in Rakhine State, undertaken in an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance, in order to address the underlying causes of communal violence in that area. Ethnic and religious minorities and women must be included at all stages of the reconciliation process.

The Government of Canada agrees with the Committee’s recommendations aimed at addressing the need for national reconciliation and an end to ethnic conflict in Burma. The specific recommendations are already an integral part of Canadian engagement with Burma and non-state groups. Canada encourages continued dialogue between the central Burmese government and ethnic groups aimed at resolving long-standing conflicts in Burma’s border areas, including in Kachin State. Canada continues to call on all parties to reach a sustainable and peaceful solution to these conflicts, and to at all times respect the human rights of the local people.  Continued fighting in some areas of the country is a source of ongoing concern, though recent progress on establishing ceasefires – including a preliminary agreement in Kachin state reached in May 2013 – is encouraging. Canada is also monitoring closely the efforts currently under way to move beyond individual ceasefires with the numerous ethnic minority armed groups toward more sustainable and comprehensive peace agreements and political resolution of underlying grievances.

Canada supports inter-ethnic cooperation, analysis and engagement on issues of conflict and reconciliation through the Burma Border Assistance Program.  In 2013, project partners produced “Deciphering Myanmar’s Peace Process: a Reference Guide”, a 184-page reference guide that maps out the various peace plan initiatives, and identifies the main obstacles and causes of the conflict. In the first half of 2013, civil society organizations supported by Canada organized and led 135 community dialogues, workshops, and events for 7,827 people on issues at the root of local grievances and concerns including land rights, dams, oil and gas, and mining. Support is also being provided to women’s organizations in Yangon, other major Burmese centres and states to increase women’s political participation in and contributions to national reconciliation processes.  In addition, a GPSF project has recently been approved that involves building the capacity of local ethnic minority leaders to more effectively represent and advocate for the interests of local populations within the peace process.   Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has directly offered to his Burmese counterpart the assistance of the Government of Canada in addressing inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict in Burma.  The Minister has also consulted with his counterparts in the regions on what constructive role Canada can play on this issue.

Recommendations to the Government of Canada aimed at combating discrimination and enhancing inter-ethnic tolerance and dialogue in Burma

Recommendation 11

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada stress to the Government of Burma the importance of repealing discriminatory legislation that targets the Rohingya ethnic minority, of respecting the human rights of the Rohingya people, and of resolving the issue of their citizenship in accordance with international human rights standards. The Subcommittee recommends that, consistent with its long-held position, the Government of Canada should condemn, at all appropriate opportunities, any move towards segregation, detention or mass forcible transfer of the Burmese Rohingya population.

Recommendation 12

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to closely monitor the human rights and humanitarian situation in Rakhine State, as well as any investigations into the violence in that region. The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada communicate to the Government of Burma its intentions in this regard.

Recommendation 13

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to condemn incidences of inter-ethnic violence and take concrete steps to promote tolerance and the principle of non-discrimination in Burma as part of its strategy for supporting Burma’s democratic transition.

The Government of Canada agrees with the Committee’s recommendations aimed at combating discrimination and enhancing inter-ethnic tolerance and dialogue in Burma. As noted by the Committee, these recommendations are already an integral part of Canadian engagement with Burma. Long-term peace and prosperity in Burma will require dialogue and cooperation between all groups, including ethnic and religious minorities.  Canada has condemned the ethnic and sectarian strife which has affected the people of Rakhine state, particularly the stateless Muslim Rohingya minority, and led to dozens of deaths and the displacement of tens of thousands of residents.  The Government of Canada calls on all sides to work toward a peaceful resolution of the tension which led to the violence and for a durable solution to the plight of the Rohingya people, which would include the rights (education, employment, marriage, etc.) accorded by citizenship. 

Canada also publicly called for an immediate cessation of the inter-communal violence which broke out in parts of central Burma earlier this year.  We have urged the Burmese authorities to ensure that the rights and safety of all residents are protected, and to fully investigate and prosecute those responsible for these acts. Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom is expected to visit Burma in the coming year to exchange views and to encourage practical cooperation on improving respect for the human rights of members of religious communities. 

Canada continues to monitor the humanitarian situation in Burma, particularly in Rakhine and Kachin states and in south-eastern Burma, and is supporting the provision of humanitarian assistance through experienced partners such as the UN, the International Red Cross Movement, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Recommendation to the Government of Canada regarding its relations with the Government of Bangladesh

Recommendation 14

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada raise with the Government of Bangladesh, in all appropriate forums, the need to treat Rohingya fleeing persecution in Burma in accordance with internationally accepted human rights standards, to permit humanitarian access to refugees and populations of concern within Bangladesh by international non-governmental organizations, and to facilitate the work of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) in southeastern Bangladesh.

The Government of Canada agrees with the Committee’s recommendations regarding its relations with the Government of Bangladesh; such engagement is already a part of Canadian engagement with the Government of Bangladesh. Canadian officials have been in contact with the Government of Bangladesh to raise concerns about asylum seekers attempting to cross the border from Burma to Bangladesh who have apparently been refouled back to Burma, which would be a clear violation of international law and the principle of non-refoulement (whereby a state cannot return an individual to a country where they face the risk of torture or persecution). Canada has asked the Government of Bangladesh to improve the conditions of Bangladeshi communities hosting Rohingya refugees, and to register the refugees.  It is critical that the UNHCR and other international actors have access to sites where an estimated 36,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees have set up camp.  Canada believes the rights of indigenous communities need to be upheld and recognized by all stakeholders to prevent further conflict from erupting in Bangladesh.  Canada welcomed the Government of Bangladesh’s declared intention to implement the Chittagong Hills Tract Peace Accord, and calls upon Bangladesh to carry out this objective fully. We will continue to engage with the Government of Bangladesh on issues related to refugees in Bangladesh. We will also continue to raise the issue with UNHCR and indicate Canada’s support of the UNHCR’s advocacy efforts vis-à-vis the Governments of Burma and Bangladesh concerning the plight of the stateless Rohingya and the provision of protection to those fleeing and displaced within Burma.

Recommendations to the Government of Canada aimed at improving respect for international humanitarian law in Burma

Recommendation 15

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada take appropriate steps to encourage the Government of Burma and the Burmese military to respect international humanitarian law, including by urging Burma to ratify the following international treaties:

  • Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977;
  • Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977;
  • Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem (Protocol III), 8 December 2005; and,
  • Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, 3 December 1997.

Recommendation 16

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada consider the appropriateness of offering technical assistance to Burmese officials in the form of training on international humanitarian law.

The Government of Canada agrees with the Committee’s recommendations aimed at improving respect for international humanitarian law in Burma, and is actively considering the provision of  assistance in this field.

Recommendations to the Government of Canada aimed at improving humanitarian access and ensuring adequate humanitarian assistance in Burma

Recommendation 17

The Subcommittee recommends that Canada continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Burma, including urgent assistance to address humanitarian needs in crisis situations as they arise. The Subcommittee wishes to highlight, in this regard, the dire humanitarian situation that currently prevails in parts of the Kachin and Rakhine states.

Recommendation 18

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada emphasize, in its relations with the Government of Burma and in any contacts it may have with, members of the Burmese Parliament and representatives of non-state armed groups, the necessity of permitting full humanitarian access to conflict and violence affected areas.

Recommendation 19

The Subcommittee also recommends that the Government of Canada push for the release of any staff of international non-governmental organizations who have been detained or convicted on the basis of peaceful activities undertaken as part of their humanitarian work in Rakhine State.

The Government of Canada agrees with the Committee’s recommendations aimed at improving humanitarian access and ensuring adequate humanitarian assistance in Burma, which recommendations are already an integral part of Canadian policy. Canada recognizes the challenging humanitarian situation across Burma. To date in 2013, Canada has provided $4.2 million in humanitarian assistance to Burma on the basis of need and in response to appeals issued by experienced humanitarian organizations in the UN system, the International Red Cross Movement and NGOs.  These efforts are helping to meet the needs of crisis-affected and displaced populations in the country including displaced people in Rakhine State, Kachin State and the south-east of the country through the provision of life-saving assistance such as water, sanitation, and hygiene, basic health services, protection, micronutrient supplementation to children under five years of age and pregnant/lactating women across Burma, and food distribution to 200,000 conflict-affected people across Burma. Canada will closely monitor the situation and will adjust programming as required.

The provision of humanitarian assistance in Burma – although gradually improving – continues to be characterized by limited and inconsistent access, largely due to obstruction by government officials. Humanitarian workers are gradually building trust with communities in Rakhine State, and are working to educate community leaders on the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence.  In its messaging and interaction with relevant parties, Canada calls upon all parties to ensure the security of humanitarian workers and to allow full and unimpeded humanitarian access to crisis-affected people throughout Burma.

As with all political prisoners in Burma, the Government of Canada objects to the arrest or detention of any individuals on the basis of their peaceful activities or political engagement, and will continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of any such persons.

Recommendations to the Government of Canada aimed at supporting Burma’s economic reforms

Recommendation 20

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to support Burma’s economic reforms and take all appropriate steps to ensure that Canadian companies considering investing in Burma are aware of the weak governance context and ongoing human rights concerns in the country.

The Subcommittee further recommends that the Government of Canada continue to stress its expectation that Canadian corporations meet or exceed applicable corporate social responsibility standards, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Recommendation 21

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada, as part of its support for Burma’s transition to democracy, consider ways to provide Canadian expertise to the Government of Burma, with a view to developing Burma’s capacity to devise and implement a legal and regulatory framework to govern the extractive resource sector that meets international human rights standards.

The Government of Canada welcomes the Committee’s recommendations aimed at supporting Burma’s economic reforms. The recommendations are already an integral part of Canadian policy or will be considered for future engagement. Canada will continue its efforts to encourage responsible business conduct, including respect for human rights, among Canadian companies in their operations abroad, with particular focus on those involved in the extractive sector. Canada's network of offices abroad and in Canada, including the Canadian embassy in Burma, actively promote responsible investment to Canadian companies and other stakeholders in their regions through meetings, workshops, seminars and by developing tools for use locally. The Canadian embassy in Burma will facilitate Canadian trade, investment and innovation exchanges and encourage Canadian firms to focus on mutual benefit and sustainable development as part of their international business plans. Canada will also continue to work with host country governments to enhance their capacity to protect human rights and manage their own natural resources for economic, social and environmental sustainability, including through improving their regulatory regimes.

Canada has many firms with recognized capability in fields of direct interest to Burma including companies involved in telecommunications, agribusiness, mining, construction and services including finance, insurance, law and education.  Canadian law firms have indicated their interest in helping draft legislation in the areas of consumer/competition and mining as part of the Burmese government’s legal infrastructure reform and are seeking the endorsement of the Burmese government.

The Government of Canada recognizes that, while most Canadian companies are committed to the highest legal, environmental and social standards, those that lack this commitment can cause harm to communities abroad and undermine the competitive position of other Canadian companies.  Canada recognizes the importance of establishing an environment in which responsible investment can take place. 

Canada's strategy for the Canadian international extractive sector ‘Building the Canadian Advantage’ seeks to enhance Canadian companies' ability to manage social and environmental risks.  This strategy also promotes the introduction of capacity building initiatives to enhance developing countries in the management and future development their natural resource endowments (minerals, oil and gas) with a view to linking effective resource development management to sustainable economic activity that will contribute to a reduction in poverty. 

Canada continues to promote internationally recognized investment performance and reporting guidelines. This strategy promotes four internationally recognized standards: the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines for Multi-National Enterprises, the Global Reporting Initiative; the International Finance Corporation Performance Standards on Social & Environmental Sustainability, and the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights. The Government of Canada encourages voluntary compliance with these internationally recognized standards and best practices.

Canada was a key supporter of the development of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  Canada allocated over $600,000 to assist the work of the then UN Special Representative to the Secretary General on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises through the Glyn Berry Program, an envelope under the Global Peace and Security Fund, and participated in the development of the Guiding Principles.  Canada continues to play an active role in promotion and implementation of the Guiding Principles, and the current Working Group on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises activities align closely with departmental priorities, including the Government of Canada’s strategy for the international extractive sector. Canada has worked with Canadian and international partners to ensure strong follow-up to the Guiding Principles following their endorsement. Canada is exploring how to actively promote the best practices outlined in the Guiding Principles in countries such as Burma.

Recommendation regarding Canadian international development policy in Burma

Recommendation 22

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to fund civil society organizations operating in Burma’s border regions and outside the country, as part of a broader effort to support greater understanding of universal human rights principles in Burma, including the right to freedom from discrimination and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The Government of Canada agrees with the Committee’s recommendation regarding Canadian international development policy in Burma. This recommendation is already a part of Canadian policy towards Burma’s border regions. Canada has delivered development assistance to Burmese refugees, migrants, internally displaced people and civil society organizations through a “border area programming” approach for nearly twenty years. Currently, the Building Social Capital: Burma Border Assistance Program ($15.9 million, 2010-2015), implemented by the Canadian non-governmental organization Inter Pares, focuses on increasing the capacity of displaced people and community organizations to participate in and contribute towards democratic transition.  In addition to addressing basic needs of displaced and vulnerable people, this initiative carries out activities in the areas of human rights, women’s empowerment, access to information and sustainable development. Approximately eighty percent of the program’s sixty-eight local partners have activities and offices in Burma, but most are based in neighbouring countries, primarily Thailand.

Recommendations in respect of Canadian sanctions policy toward Burma

Recommendation 23

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada periodically reassess the decision that it has taken to suspend economic sanctions against Burma, taking into account the country’s progress on its path towards democratic transition.

Recommendation 24

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to periodically assess and update the individuals listed in the Schedule to the Special Economic Measures (Burma) Regulations with a view to ensuring that the Schedule reflects the most complete and relevant list of persons that are involved in and profiting from serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of human rights, and which meet the relevant legal criteria under these Regulations and the Special Economic Measures Act.

Recommendation 25

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada publicly communicate that progress on human rights, the rule of law, and democratic governance must be made by Burma before Canada will permanently lift economic sanctions.

The Government of Canada welcomes the Committee’s recommendations in respect of Canadian sanctions policy toward Burma.  Reviews of Canada’s sanctions are already an integral part of Canadian policy toward Burma. Canada continues to call for and support further reforms building on the progress made to date, while Canadian officials monitor the situation in Burma closely.  Canada’s foreign policy with regard to Burma is under continual review.  Developments inside the country will inform any further changes to Canada’s Burma policy, including on the remaining sanctions.  The Government of Canada is prepared to consider re-imposing sanctions in response to a reversal of reforms or serious deterioration in the overall human rights situation in Burma.