Kerry Pushes Rice to Consider Burmese Junta’s Actions as “Crimes Against Humanity”


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. John Kerry today sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to express his grave concerns over the Burmese military junta’s restricting foreign aid to millions devastated by the recent cyclone, and to ask whether the junta’s actions may constitute “crimes against humanity” under international law. Kerry has requested a legal opinion from the State Department.

“The junta’s refusal to accept foreign aid has inflicted extraordinary pain and suffering on the Burmese people,” said Sen. Kerry. “The systematic restrictions on international support have denied lifesaving disaster assistance to over a million people. Our State Department should be considering every possible tool to create leverage to force the junta to allow humanitarian aid to reach the people. That includes investigating whether the junta’s actions constitute a crime against humanity under international law.”

The text of the letter is as follows:

June 17, 2008

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Madam Secretary:

I write to express my serious concerns about the efforts of Burma’s ruling military junta to restrict foreign aid to the people of their country, who are recovering from the devastation wrought by Tropical Cyclone Nargis on May 3, 2008.

As you know, conditions in the cyclone’s wake have heightened the risk of starvation, disease, and deprivation. According to the UN, 2.4 million people were affected by the disaster; six weeks later, over 1 million still have not received disaster assistance.

Despite the suffering of Burma’s people, the military junta has undertaken a widespread and systematic effort to restrict the flow of international aid. The U.S. Agency for International Development recently noted that “a lack of access to areas affected by the storm continues to impose serious constraints on the effectiveness of relief operations.” The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs likewise has found that Burma’s visa process for NGO staff continues to move slowly, making a bad situation worse.

This is simply unacceptable. It is clear that the military junta’s failure to meet the most basic humanitarian needs of Burma’s people constitutes “criminal neglect,” as Secretary Gates put it, on a nation-wide scale. Its concerted efforts to prevent life-saving humanitarian aid from reaching Burma’s people raise legitimate questions as to whether the intentional inactivity of the regime warrants classification under a more egregious crime: a crime against humanity triable by international tribunals and by national courts around the world.

As you may be aware, Article VII of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines crimes against humanity as certain acts “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.” Such crimes include a residual category of “inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”

I respectfully request that your Department review whether the military junta’s inexcusable response to Tropical Cyclone Nargis constitutes a crime against humanity under international law, and that you provide me with your legal opinion.

Thank you for your serious and timely consideration of this request. I look forward to your response.


John F. Kerry

Cc: John B. Bellinger, III, Legal Advisor to the Secretary of State

One Response

  1. […] Weekly : Vol 36 , WE Sun 3rd Aug ’08 Kerry Pushes Rice to Consider Burmese Juntas Actions as Crimes Against Humanity Posted on July 28, 2008 by sanooaung 06/17/2008 WASHINGTON, D.C. Sen. John Kerry today sent a […]

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