Myanmar appoints human rights commission; US special envoy to visit

Updated On: Sep 08, 2011

Myanmar has established a National Human Rights Commission which it says will investigate abuses.

This recent move follows other signals that the civilian government may be adopting a more concilatory approach towards both political opponents and the international community. Earlier in the month, an unprecedented meeting between opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi and nominal President Thein Sein took place. Shortly after, a UN rights envoy was allowed to visit for the first time in 11 months.

Media reported that the panel would be made up of former ambassadors, government officials and academics. Analysts question whether these individuals would have the will or freedom to consider human rights abuses independently. In 2000, a similar commission did little to improve the human rights situation in the country.

Aung Thein, a prominent political activist and former lawyer said independence was key, and that "it would work as long as commission members can independently, courageously and objectively report the human rights violations according to international human rights norms."

Suu Kyi's spokesman Nyan Win said according to his party, "the capability of the new Commission depends on how independent and how much authority the body will be given".

The latest move from the government comes as Myanmar is under pressure to establish an international commission of inquiry into suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity in Myanmar. Eager to avoid the inquiry, the country has ramped up its efforts to improve relations with its critics.

In a further sign of outreach, Derek Mitchell, the new US special envoy to Myanmar made his first trip to the country Wednesday as part of the Obama administration's strategy of engagement. "His trip is intended to build upon US dialogue and engagement toward shared goals of genuine reform, reconciliation, and development for the Burmese people," the State Department said Tuesday in a statement.

Mitchell said that he would seek "direct and candid" talks with the Myanmar government. His post was empty when the Obama administration took office due to a political dispute, but was reinstated when it was ruled that sanctions aimed at isolating Myanmar had been ineffective.

Critics have dismissed government engagement as a tactic to get sanctions against the country lifted, while others have expressed cautious optimism that the government is seeking to dissociate itself from the brutal abuses of the past.

Report: Burma sets up Human Rights Commission  (BBC News, 6 September 2011)

Report: Myanmar establishes human rights commission (AP, 6 September 2011)

Report: US special envoy to head for Myanmar (Channel News Asia, 7 September 2011)

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