It is estimated that over 1,800 political prisoners languish in Burma's jails - many of them monks. Dutch Socialist Thijs Berman, who chaired the hearing, called for the UN Security Council to launch an inquiry into human rights violations. He said he hoped it would lead to suspects being brought before the International Criminal Court. He called for parliament to adopt a resolution on Burma when it next meets in plenary session.
Monks barred from voting
The generals' ploy is a "roadmap to democracy", which they hope will lead to a Constitution giving the military 25% of seats in parliament. The military has already barred the 400,000 monks who led the protests in August and September last year from voting in the referendum.
Under the terms of the proposed Constitution anyone who has been married to a foreign national is barred from public office. This is directed at opposition leader and Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi who was married to British academic Michael Aris. During the last stages of his illness in Britain (he died in 1999) the generals refused to allow him to visit his wife whilst encouraging her to leave Burma. Her party won the 1990 general election but the result was declared void by the military and she has been under virtual house arrest in Rangoon ever since.
EU support urged for Aung San Suu Kyi
Speaking at the hearing, Portuguese MEP José Ribeiro e Castro (EPP-ED) called on the EU to give Ms Suu Kyi more support (she has already won the parliament's Sakharov prize). He also called for a coherent strategy in relations to Burma's key neighbours China and India in order to coordinate the international response to the regime. China is one of Rangoon's few international friends.
British Labour MEP Glenys Kinnock said any development assistance to the country (Burma is one of the poorest in the world) should be linked to political progress. It was part of a wider call by many participants for "smarter sanctions" and other measures to bring the regime to heed democratic calls. One solution could be to apply stricter travel restrictions to leading figures in the regime.
Generals rejected UN democracy plan
Economic pressure should also be applied according to Mr Berman, who would like pressure put on international companies who do business with the regime.
The EU's special envoy for Burma Piero Fassino told MEPs that the regime had refused a UN plan that would have led to democracy. He said the plan had stressed the importance of dialogue and recognition but that it had been rejected. As the date of the referendum draws nearer, the pressure within Burma is certain to mount.
Further information :
- More from the Hearing
- Burma: prepare targeted economic sanctions, say MEPs
- Resolution of 27 September 2007 on Burma
- Parliament calls for Aung San Suu Kyi release
- Meeting documents