Human Rights Commission Met with Skepticism

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TUESDAY, 06 SEPTEMBER 2011

The Irrawaddy – Burmese human rights groups have greeted news of the creation of a “Myanmar National Human Rights Commission” (MNHRC) with doubts about how independent the new body will be and questions about key members, who include past defenders of the country’s human rights record.

The MNHRC was officially formed on Monday to promote and safeguard the fundamental rights of citizens in accordance with the 2008 Constitution, Burma’s state-run media reported on Tuesday. The 15-member body includes retired senior officials, diplomats, academics, doctors and lawyers.

The chairman and vice chairman of the commission are retired ambassadors Win Mra and Kyaw Tint Swe, while its secretary is Sit Myaing, the retired director general of the Social Welfare Department.

“I am skeptical about whether the commission will speak based on the truth and take action against human rights violations in accordance with the law,” said Aung Myo Min, the director of the Thailand-based Human Rights Education Institute of Burma.

Aung Myo Min said it was doubtful that a human rights body led by former officials who have defended the country against criticism of its human rights record in the past would act independently of the government.

Win Mra once told a UN gathering that there was no religious discrimination in Burma, and also insisted that there was no such racial group as the Rohingya—a Muslim minority living in Arakan State—in the country.

As the Burmese representative of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Human Rights Commission, Kyaw Tint Swe was often unwilling to discuss rights restrictions in Burma, added Aung Myo Min.

At a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Burma’s human rights situation by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Burmese representatives continued to deny reports of forced labor, sexual violence against women and other abuses perpetrated by the country’s military.

At the UPR meeting in January, the Burmese delegation said that accusations of widespread rights violations, especially in ethnic areas, were “baseless and merely aimed at discrediting the Burmese armed forces.”

Despite these denials, however, there are many well-documented cases of human rights abuses in Burma, including land confiscation, forcible recruitment of child soldiers, forced labor and rape and murder of ethnic civilians in conflict zones.

Maung Maung Lay, of the Rangoon-based Human Rights Defenders and Promoters group, said he welcomed the creation any organization seeking to promote human rights, but would have to wait and see whether the new commission acted in an independent manner.

In the 1990s, Burma’s ruling junta formed a human rights committee led by Home Affairs Minister Col Tin Hlaing, and later by Maj-Gen Maung Oo.

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