Friday, October 22, 2010

Ban report to UN downplays Burma abuses, ignores envoy

Friday, 22 October 2010 22:17 Thomas Maung Shwe

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s recent report to the General Assembly on the situation of human rights in Burma omitted the UN rights envoy to the country’s key recommendation that the UN establish a commission of inquiry “to address the question of international crimes” committed in Burma.

While Ban Ki-moon’s report briefly mentioned that UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma Tomás Ojea Quintana had issued a report in March to the UN Human Rights Council, the secretary general failed to include any discussion of Quintana’s strongly worded conclusion that in Burma there existed a pattern of “gross and systematic” rights abuses which suggest that the abuses were a state policy that involved authorities at all levels of the executive, military and judiciary.

Ban’s report also omitted Quintana’s words that in Burma the “possibility exists that some of these human rights violations may entail categories of crimes against humanity or war crimes under the terms of the Statute of the International Criminal Court [known as the Rome Statute]”.

Democracy activist appalled by Ban’s omission

The decision by Ban and his staff to significantly downplay Quintana’s observations and ignore the special rapporteur’s recommendations does not sit well with many Burma opposition figures and democracy activists.

Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK told Mizzima that “for the secretary general to ignore the advice and the evidence presented by the UN’s own Burma expert is deeply worrying. The UN can’t claim ignorance to what is going on in Burma. The report of the special rapporteur and the report of the secretary general present significantly different pictures of the same country”.

Ban’s report also ignored Kokang fighting

Ban’s report also failed to mention the Burmese regime’s assault on the Kokang region in August-September last year, which forced 37,000 refugees into China and included well-documented instances of military attacks on civilians.

His failure to mention the rights situation in the Kokang region came despite the fact that part of the regime’s offensive occurred during the period the report is supposed to cover, from August last year to August this year. The report also failed to mention the Burmese Army’s documented killings of civilians in Karen State, instead Ban made the rather optimistic observation that “the past 15 years have seen a significant reduction in the overall level of conflict in Myanmar [Burma]”.

Ban also claimed that the release of a relatively small number of political prisoners in September last year was evidence that “there have been some signs of flexibility from the Myanmar [Burmese] authorities in response to my proposals”.
Farmaner saw things quite differently. “Once again the secretary general has downplayed the seriousness of human rights violations in Burma, while at the same time exaggerating small positives.”

He said Ban in his report “gives great attention to the release of a small percentage of political prisoners following his visit to Burma, while ignoring the fact that the number of political prisoners has barely changed, as the generals continued to arrest and jail political activists during this time”.

Quintana avoids criticising Ban

In an interview with New York-based Inner City Press on Thursday, Quintana acknowledged that Ban’s report failed to include his recommendations for a commission of inquiry. When pressed by the New York agency’s accredited UN correspondent, Matthew Russell Lee, to assess Ban’s handling of the human rights situation in Burma, Quintana responded: “you cannot ask me to tell him what to do”.

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