UN Envoy concludes Myanmar visit

Updated On: Aug 26, 2011

Concluding a five day visit to Myanmar, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country acknowledged the positive developments the Government of Myanmar had taken to improve the human rights situation in Myanmar but noted that many serious human rights issues remain which need to be addressed.

“This is a key moment in Myanmar’s history and there are real opportunities for positive and meaningful developments to improve the human rights situation and bring about a genuine transition to democracy,” Tomás Ojea Quintana said at the end of his five-day mission to the South-East Asian nation.

During his visit, Mr Quintana met with key ministers, the Attorney General and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Union Election Commission and some of the Presidential advisors, who he credited with  playing a key role in advising the President on the challenges facing Myanmar and the priorities for reform. He also met with opposition leaders, civil society organisations, former prisoners of consience and members of the UN Country Team, as well as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Report; Myanmar needs to do more to improve human rights situation, says UN expert [UN News Centre, 25 August 2011]

In his end-of-mission statement, the Special Rapporteur voiced concern about the continuing allegations of torture and ill-treatment during prisoner interrogation, and the continued detention over 2000 political prisoners, several of whom he met on a visit to Insein Prison.

Other concerns highlighted include tensions in ethnic border areas and armed conflict with some armed ethnic groups, which 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.

In particular, he noted that "The capacity, independence and impartiality of the judiciary remain outstanding issues in Myanmar. 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."

Quintana welcomed the opening of space for different actors and parties to engage in the politcal process and the apparant steps made towards a more inclusive Parliament, where government ministers accept questions, and debates are covered by the official media.

He also welcomed Thein Sein's priorities which include the protection of social and economic rights, the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms, including through amendment and revocation of laws, good governance, as well as respect for the rule of law and an independent and transparent judiciary. Thein Sein has also opened peace talks with armed groups and opened the door for exiles to return.

With the UN experts visits over, many in the international community wonder if recent cooperation marks a genuine change of heart by Myanmar's government. Some commentators, like Kelley Currie, from the Project 2049 Institute, a Washington-based think tank, believe that that if it opens up and rationalizes Myanmar's economy, including creating a more stable regulatory environment, it can turn its Western critics into willing investors in Myamar's economy, thus reducing the human rights criticism it currently endures. For years the Myanmar has complained that the West subjects them to a double standard, looking at China and other non-democratic neighbours and virtually ignoring a lack of democracy in other contexts where there is business to be done.

Statement: Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar [UN, 25 August 2011]

Report: Myanmar: “Serious human rights issues remain despite positive steps by the authorities,” says UN expert [UN, 25 August 2011]

Analysis: Change Burma Can't Quite Believe In  [Wall Street Journal, 26 August 2011]

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