Saturday, January 29, 2011

Critics blast Junta’s presentation at UN Rights Council

Saturday, 29 January 2011 11:26 Thomas Maung Shwe

Mizzima - Opposition critics hit back at the Burmese regime following its diplomatic corps defense of Burma’s human rights record at before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on Thursday.

The junta’s appearance before the human rights council was the first time its rights record has been scrutinized under the newly reformatted Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which all UN members must undergo.

The revised process entails a public review of the human rights record of each UN Member State every four years. During the three-hour session, representatives of the Burmese regime sought to portray critical statements made by Western diplomats as inaccurate and outrageous.

Responding to written submissions made by Human Rights Watch and other NGOs about the Burmese armed forces continued use of violence against ethnic minorities the regime’s representatives claimed that ‘accusations of rape against ethnic women are baseless, with the aim of discrediting armed forces’.

The Burmese regime’s attempt to convince the international community that there was no need for concern also included the director general of Burma’s prison system, Zaw Win, telling the council that Burma had no political prisoners and that all of those currently jailed in Burma were criminals who had violated the law.

Zaw Win’s attempt to deny the claims of human rights groups that Burma has more than 2,100 political prisoners failed to impress Tihar Yazar, a former political prisoner who spent 17 and half years in Burma’s prison system for participating in Burma’s opposition.

Thiha Yarzar told Mizzima “the Burmese military regime always denies they have political prisoners, but it’s just not true and everyone knows it.”

Another Burmese representative’s claim that the regime’s armed forces ‘have a zero tolerance policy towards serious human rights violations, including sexual violence’, was another example of the regime’s offensive behavior, according to Thailand-based Cheery Zahau, the coordinator for the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma.

Cheery, who followed the regime’s testimony via live web broadcast told Mizzima, ‘The SPDC report was outrageous, they denied everything. It was farcical’.

The human rights activist noted, however, that the UPR process was still important because it creates a chance for governments around the world to grill the military regime on human rights and allowed for detailed submissions written by organizations dedicated to the human rights situation in Burma like the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPPB) and the Chin Human Rights Organization.

The US State Department took part in the session, and strongly critised the Burmese regime’s ongoing stifling of political dissent. US participation in the UPR is opposed by some conservative Republican politicians because the new system gives Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea the opportunity to criticize the American government’s own human rights record every four years. In a video press release issued by the State Department just before the session, the US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, Eileen Donahue, defended the Obama administrations participation in the UPR.

Donahoe was featured in the video press release say, ‘I do believe that the Human Rights Council review process, the Universal Period Review, of Burma can contribute to an improvement in the human rights situation on the ground in Burma, specifically because representatives of the Burmese government will travel here and be required to convey their perspective on their own human rights record and then listen to the deep concerns by all members of the international community as well as civil society with respect to their record.’

Donahoe’s appearance in the video press release closely followed the position that she and the US government would take during the hearing. Donahoe described the release of Aung San Suu Kyi as ‘wonderful’, but added ‘we can’t lose sight of the fact she should have never been in prison and there are still 2,100 political prisoners being detained, and even though there was an election, it was nowhere near to being a free or fair election’.

Burma UK Campaign director Mark Farmaner told Mizzima that he hoped the international community would hold the Burmese regime’s representatives to account for what he found to be totally dishonest testimony by Burma’s representatives.

According to Farmaner, ‘The Junta’s Geneva representative should have gone into movies rather than the military, perhaps specializing in fantasy movies. If a person lies in court they can be jailed for perjury. When a country lies to the United Nations, there are no penalties. The lies told by the dictatorship at the UPR are shameless and outrageous. The Human Rights Council shouldn’t let this pass without comment or consequences’.

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