WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States supports forming an international commission to probe possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by Myanmar’s military rulers, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.
The decision comes after months of fruitless diplomacy by President Barack Obama’s administration, which had offered greater engagement in an effort to win democratic concessions from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
"The United States supports establishing an international commission of inquiry to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma," the official said.
"We will consult with a broad array of stakeholders and key players to determine how best to achieve that end."
In March, a United Nations investigator into Myanmar’s human rights record called for the formation of the commission, saying the military government of the isolated Southeast Asian nation had a pattern of gross and systematic violations of fundamental freedoms of its citizens.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said violations included mass arrests of dissidents, deaths and torture of detainees and forced labor, which could involve categories of crimes against humanity or war crimes under international law.
Myanmar’s rulers came in for renewed criticism after they announced they would hold the country’s first parliamentary polls in two decades on Nov. 7. They rejected Western criticism that the elections would be neither free nor fair and would only entrench military rule.
Myanmar’s now-defunct National League for Democracy, led by detained Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, said in March it would boycott the polls because of unjust election laws and imprisonment of many of its members.
Last year, Washington offered Myanmar a fresh start in trying to improve strained relations. But U.S. officials have been disappointed by the junta’s refusal to budge on key sticking points involving democratic reforms as well as growing concern over its nuclear ambitions.
Myanmar has ignored U.S. and U.N. calls to hold dialogue with opposition parties and ethnic groups before the election and to immediately release the country’s estimated 2,100 political prisoners including Suu Kyi.
American officials have also expressed concern over reports that Myanmar may be seeking to acquire nuclear technology from North Korea in violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions.
The United States has already imposed economic sanctions against Myanmar’s government and U.S. officials have hinted these may be tightened if further appeals for democratic change are rebuffed.
"Our strategy has always envisioned not only direct engagement, but also using tools like sanctions to put pressure on the Burmese Government to open up political space in its society," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "We have a range of tools available to us."
(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Chris Wilson)