TUESDAY, 13 MARCH 2012
“A positive impact on the human rights situation has been made” in Burma, but “ongoing and serious human rights concerns remain to be addressed,” Tomas Ojea Quintana told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday.
“These cannot be ignored in the rush to reform and to move forward,” said Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur on Burma.
He said there is also a real risk of backtracking on the progress achieved to date.
Listing positive accomplishments, he said he was encouraged that the Parliament has been active in the legislative reform process, passing a Labour Organizations Law, the The Peaceful Demonstration and Gathering Law as well as amending the Political Party Registration Law. A revised Prisons Act, a new media law and a new social security law, among others, are currently under preparation, he noted.
“While I welcome these developments, I note concerns regarding some of the provisions in these legislation and the insufficient attention being paid to ensure their effective implementation,” he said. “There is also a lack of clarity and progress on reforming the laws that I have previously identified as not in full compliance with international human rights standards, such as the State Protection Act, the Unlawful Association Act, certain sections of the penal code, the Television and Video Law, the Motion Picture Law, the Computer Science and Development Law, and the Printers and Publishers Registration Act.
“These laws have been systematically applied against those opposed to the government,” he said. “I reiterate the need to accelerate this process and identify clear time-bound target dates for the conclusion of the review. Regardless of efforts made to reform legislation, I remain concerned with the lack of an independent, impartial and effective judiciary to uphold the rule of law and ensure checks and balances on the executive and the legislative.”
He said that in his meeting with the Supreme Court, he noted little acknowledgement of challenges and gaps, and “a lack of willingness to address my previous recommendations.”
“I strongly call on the judiciary to take a proactive approach to apply laws in a way that would safeguard and guarantee fundamental freedoms and human rights in line with international human rights standards,” he said. He urged the judiciary to seek technical assistance from the international community, particularly the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and other organizations.
He said he continued to believe that the upcoming by-elections on 1 April will be a key test of how far the Government has progressed in its process of reform.
“It is essential that they are truly free, fair, inclusive and transparent. I must stress that the credibility of the elections will not be determined solely on the day of the vote, but on the basis of the entire process leading up to and following election day,” he said. Reports he received of campaign irregularities and restrictions on the ability of political parties to carry out campaign activities should be addressed seriously by the Union Election Commission, he said.
“Respect for freedom of speech should be fully ensured. In this regard, while I welcome the easing of restrictions on the media and the Internet, the recent lifting of a ban on exiled journalists and the government’s stated intention to reform journalism laws and abolish censorship.”
He noted that that there are continuing restrictions on the media and on the freedom of opinion or expression more generally, including under various laws that he singled out in previous reports, such as the Television and Video Law (1985), the Motion Picture Law (1996), the Computer Science and Development Law (1996), and the Printers and Publishers Registration Act (1962).
“I hope that the establishment of a national press council and the preparation of a new draft media law, currently underway, would guarantee press freedom and abolish censorship,” he said.
During his last visit to Burma, he said he had the opportunity to engage with members of the National Human Rights Commission for the first time since its establishment in September last year.
“I was informed of some of the actions undertaken by the commission, including prison visits, visits to internally displaced persons in Kachin State, and the receipt of complaints from citizens. I was encouraged to hear that the resources available to the commission may be increased significantly,” he said. However, he said there are no indications that the commission is fully independent and compliant with the Paris Principles.
He said he welcomed the four amnesties that have been granted by the new government, which have resulted in the release of a significant number of prisoners of conscience, including prominent figures, and he called for a release of all political prisoners immediately.
He said among the most serious challenges are poverty and food insecurity, and while he was encouraged by the various reforms undertaken to promote development and economic growth, he continued to be informed about the extent of deprivation of human rights throughout the country, particularly in ethnic border areas.
“These are fundamental rights that are equally essential to Burma’s democratic transition, national reconciliation and its long-term stability,” he said.
“Given the wave of privatizations last year and the expected increase in foreign investment, along with the new government’s plans to accelerate economic development, I also fear an increase in land confiscations, development-induced displacement and other violations of economic, social and cultural rights.”
He said the ongoing conflict with some armed ethnic groups, despite the president’s orders to the military not to engage in offensive operations except in self-defense, 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 and forced labour and portering.
He said both the military and non-state armed groups continue to use landmines.
“Of particular concern is the ongoing conflict in Kachin State, where there are continuing reports of violations committed and where the needs of those displaced and affected by the conflict must be addressed as a matter of priority,” he said.
“Ultimately, I believe that any durable political solution must address the root causes of the conflict. In this respect, I have previously highlighted systematic and endemic discrimination faced by ethnic and religious minority groups, including the Rohingya community.”
He said that for national reconciliation to be effective, human rights violations must be acknowledged and those responsible held accountable for crimes of war. “The international community also has a responsibility to support the people of Burma in this process,” he said.
Photo : UN