Thursday, August 25, 2011

UN envoy says Burma has potential for improvement: Statement

Thursday, 25 August 2011 22:08 Mizzima News

(Statement) - The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana issued a statement at the end of his visit to Burma on Thursday, after meetings with government officials, opposition figures and a tour of Insein Prison.

The following is an edited version:

Statement of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

By Tomas Ojea Quintana
25 August 2011
Yangon International Airport, Myanmar

I have just concluded my five-day mission to Myanmar – my fourth visit to the country since I was appointed in March 2008.

It is evident that since its formation earlier this year, the Government has taken a number of steps that have the potential to bring about an improvement in the human rights situation of Myanmar. I welcome the Government’s stated commitments to reform and the priorities set out by President Thein Sein, which includes the protection of social and economic rights, the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms, including through the amendment and revocation of existing laws, good governance, as well as respect for the rule of law and an independent and transparent judiciary. I also welcome President Thein Sein’s emphasis on the need for peace talks with armed groups and the open door for exiles to return.

Substantively, Parliament has considered a host of important issues relevant to the promotion and protection of human rights, including land tenure rights and issues of land confiscation, the issue of registering associations and other local organizations, the need for registration of trade unions, discrimination against ethnic minorities in civil service recruitment, the need for teaching of ethnic minority languages in schools in minority areas, the question of amnesty to Shan political prisoners, and the issue of granting national identification cards to the Rohingyas. I note issues were also debated in this current session of Parliament, including the provision of medicines to hospitals, the rebuilding of primary schools in certain constituencies, a private school registration bill, and environmental conservation.

I welcome what seems to be an opening of space for different actors and parties to engage in the political process. I emphasized to the Speakers and members of Parliament the importance of holding open and inclusive debates on issues of national importance that are essential for Myanmar’s transition to democracy. At the same time, I note the strong need to enhance the capacity and functioning of this new institution and of its members.  Many interlocutors from all sectors highlighted this need as well. Accordingly, I strongly encourage the Parliament to proactively seek cooperation and assistance from the international community in this regard.   Also crucial is the need to clarify a number of the Parliament’s internal rules and procedures, including establishing clear rules governing parliamentary immunity.

I was pleased to have held a frank and fruitful exchange of views with some of the Presidential Advisors, whom I believe have played a key role in advising the President on the challenges facing Myanmar and the priorities for reform.  I encourage the Presidential Advisors to continue their important functions and to provide suggestions on how to translate or implement commitments into concrete action.

There are still serious and ongoing human rights concerns that need to be addressed.  Of key concern to me and to the international community is the continuing detention of a large number of prisoners of conscience.  I have, since the start of my mandate, consistently called for their immediate release and, in my meetings with Government interlocutors, I conveyed my firm belief that their release is a central and necessary step towards national reconciliation and would bring more benefit to Myanmar’s efforts towards democracy. I reiterate that call now.

Another concern is the continuing allegations of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, the use of prisoners as porters for the military, and the transfers of prisoners to prisons in remote areas where they are unable to receive family visits or packages of essential medicine and supplemental food.  In Insein prison, I heard disturbing testimonies of prolonged sleep and food deprivation during interrogation, beatings, and the burning of bodily parts, including genital organs. I heard accounts of prisoners being confined in cells normally used for prison dogs as means of punishment. I also heard accounts of inadequate access to medical care, where prisoners had to pay for medication at their own cost.

Also of concern are the ongoing tensions in ethnic border areas and armed conflict with some armed ethnic groups, which continue to engender serious human rights violations, including attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, internal displacement, land confiscations, the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as forced labour and portering.  I call on the authorities and all armed groups to ensure the protection of civilians in conflict-affected areas and to accelerate efforts towards finding a political solution to the conflict.

Concerns regarding the availability and accessibility of education and health care were specifically highlighted, as well as the need for the teaching of ethnic minority languages in schools in minority areas – issues I have raised in my previous reports.  Other concerns highlighted addressed land and housing rights, particularly with respect to the impact of infrastructure projects, land confiscations by the military and development-induced displacement.

I observed that the capacity, independence and impartiality of the judiciary remain outstanding issues in Myanmar.  Additionally, I noted that various laws and legal provisions that limit fundamental rights and contravene international human rights standards remain in existence.  I am encouraged to hear that a process to review and possibly amend or revoke national legislation is underway, including during the current second regular session of Parliament.

Given the Government’s stated commitment to respect for the rule of law, and in line with my previous recommendations on this issue, I hope for such efforts to be accelerated.   I also encourage the Government to implement my previous recommendations on the judiciary and to undertake the series of measures I have proposed in order to enhance its independence and impartiality.  I further encourage that technical assistance be sought in the area of capacity-building and training of judges and lawyers.

I continue to hold the belief that justice and accountability measures, as well as measures to ensure access to the truth, are fundamental for Myanmar to face its past and current human rights challenges, and to move forward towards national reconciliation.  I would again encourage the Government to demonstrate its willingness and commitment to address these concerns and to take the necessary measures for investigations of human rights violations to be conducted in an independent, impartial and credible manner, without delay.

Statement courtesy of UNIC Yangon

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