Human rights gap in Burma remains serious, says UN

Human rights gap in Burma remains serious, says UN

By staff writers
11 Mar 2013

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights situation in Burma (Myanmar) says that reform in the country needs to go far deeper.

Tomás Ojea Quintana noted that there are "ongoing improvements" to the human rights situation, but warned that a large gap still remains between reform at the top and implementation on the ground.

“While the process of reform is continuing in the right direction, there are significant human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed, such as discrimination against the Rohingya in Rakhine State and the ongoing human rights violations in relation to the conflict in Kachin State,” the expert said during the presentation of his latest report to the UN Human Rights, stressing that “now is the time to address these shortcomings before they become further entrenched and destabilise the reform process.”

“The Government must establish the truth about what happened in Rakhine State during after the two waves of communal violence last June and October, and hold those responsible for human rights violations to account,” he said.

The human rights expert offered his support to pursue further investigations, and noted that he could recommend the authorities to ask the UN to support fact finding and monitoring in Rakhine State.

Referring to the 120,000 people who remain in camps for the internally displaced in Rakhine State following the violence, the Special Rapporteur asked the Government to ease the harsh restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly in the Rohingya camps, and begin the relocation of the people into integrated communities. “The need for relocation was all the more urgent given the fast approaching rainy season which will flood many of the camps,” he added.

In Kachin State, he welcomed the recent de-escalation of violence while highlighting the needs of the 75,000 people who have been displaced by the fighting. “I’m particularly concerned about the situation of the 40,000 displaced in non-Government controlled areas of Kachin State, and urge the Government to provide humanitarian organisations with regular access to these areas,” he said.

Critics say that the mistreatment of the Rohingya people amounts to systematic persecution. They say that the United Nations is not doing nearly enough to address this.

The UN expert welcomed the greater freedoms granted to journalists, but warned about shortcomings that threaten to claw back progress. “I have concerns that the rights provided to journalists by a new media law would be taken away by a draft Printing and Publishing Enterprise Law,” he highlighted. “This would be giving with one hand while taking away with the other.”

“Progress is equally nuanced when it comes to peaceful assembly,” he noted. “While people can now participate in peaceful assemblies, protesters are still being imprisoned and police officers are still using excessive force when trying to manage demonstrations. Myanmar’s path to reform will only be successful if these shortcomings are highlighted and addressed along the way.”

Ojea Quintana acknowledged progress in other areas, such as the release of over 800 prisoners of conscience since May 2011, but called for the immediate release of the over 250 who remain behind bars.

“I welcome the committee set up by the Government to identify remaining prisoners of conscience, and recommend that it be established as a permanent body to guard against future detentions for political reasons and to help ensure that the rights and freedoms of all those released are fully respected,” he said.

In his report, the Special rapporteur also addresses the issue of constitutional reform to bring the military under civilian control, as well as the establishment of a truth commission as a first step towards addressing human rights violations committed under previous military governments.

The Special Rapporteur underlined that the continuing existence of his mandate is vital to highlight these concerns and support the Government in addressing them. “It helps to remind the international community of the importance of prioritising human rights in its bilateral relations with Myanmar,” Mr Ojea Quintana said. “And ultimately, it provides a positive contribution to improving the situation of human rights for the people in Myanmar.”

Tomás Ojea Quintana, from Argentina, was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2008. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organisation and serves in his individual capacity.

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