TUESDAY, 28 FEBRUARY 2012 00:00MIZZIMA NEWS
Burma’s human rights situation has improved notably in some respects but it has significantly worsened in others, Amnesty International (AI) said this week. It called for the U.N. to seriously consider a commission of inquiry to investigate war crimes and systematic human rights abuses.
Freedoms of assembly and expression remain restricted, and hundreds of political prisoners and many prisoners of conscience remain in jail. In several ethnic minority areas, the army continues to commit violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against civilians, including acts that may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes, AI said in a statement submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.
“Many of these reported crimes are taking place despite cease-fire agreements between the Myanmar army and the relevant ethnic minority armed groups,” AI said in its statement. “In some cases, the cease-fire is not being obeyed, while in others serious human rights violations continue even when the fighting has stopped.”
Civilians have been a target of the Burmese army, the statement said. It cited “credible accounts” of the army using prison convicts as porters, forcing them to act as human shields and minesweepers. In Kachin State, where at least 55,000 people have been internally displaced since fighting resumed in mid-2011, AI said sources reported extrajudicial executions, children killed by shelling and other indiscriminate attacks, forced labour, and unlawful confiscation of food and property.
Human rights violations are not confined to the conflict zones, as evidenced by reports of forced labour on a large scale in Chin and Rakhine states (usually targeting the Rohingya ethnic minority in the latter), it said.
It said that in May 2011, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma referred to evidence that the armed forces continue to commit serious and systematic violations with impunity.
AI said Burma’s civilian government “has not taken any meaningful steps toward holding suspected perpetrators of human rights violations accountable.”
The Investigation and prosecution of human rights violations and crimes against humanity are obstructed by Article 445 of the 2008 Constitution, which stipulates that “no proceeding” may be instituted against officials of the military governments since 1988 “in respect of any act done in the execution of their respective duties.”
AI called for the U.N. to “seriously consider the establishment of an international commission of inquiry.”
In an early February statement, Ojea Quintana stressed that moving forward on Burma cannot ignore or whitewash what happened in the past, and that acknowledging the violations suffered will be necessary to ensure national reconciliation and prevent future violations from occurring.
AI noted that ethnic minorities make up approximately 35-40 per cent of Burma’s population, including people of Chinese and Indian ethnicities. According to the government, there are at least 135 different ethnic nationalities in Burma, but the exact number is difficult to determine conclusively.
“There is clear evidence that Myanmar’s authorities often target members of ethnic minorities on discriminatory grounds, such as religion or ethnicity, or seek to crush their opposition to major development projects that adversely affect their lands and livelihoods,” the AI statement said. In addition, the government often suppresses social organizations, including groups focused around religion or ethnic identity that are outside its authority and control. Some minorities’ ethnic identity in Burma is closely related to their association with a religion other than the majority Buddhism; this generally means Islam for most Rohingya, and Christianity for many Chin, Kachin, and Karen. The Rohingya ethnic minority is particularly exposed to human rights violations, as they are singled out in practice and law, with discrimination against them codified. “Under the 1982 Citizenship Law, they are denied citizenship and thus are de facto and de jure stateless,” AI said.
“The international community must improve its understanding of the aspirations of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities generally and give greater attention to addressing the needs of these minorities in discussions of the country’s human rights situation,” said the statement.
Amnesty International urged the U.N. HRC to:
- Support the establishment of an international commission of inquiry with a specific fact-finding mandate to address the question of international crimes in Burma;
- Renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma for a three-year term.
- Call on the government of Burma to:
- Immediately cease violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against ethnic minority civilians, both in conflict and ceasefire areas;
- Hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable;
- Release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience, including Khun Kawrio and Ko Aye Aung, and release political prisoners or charge them with an internationally recognizable criminal offence and try them in full conformity with international standards for fair trial;
- Seek assistance from the United Nations in convening a panel to reconcile differences in numbers and definitions of political prisoners;
- In full consultation with the UN and Burma civil society, amend or repeal laws used to stifle peaceful political expression, and reform the justice system;
- End immediately torture and other ill-treatment and punishment during interrogation and in prisons;
- Bring prison conditions in line with international standards;
- Cooperate fully with U.N. human rights treaty bodies and Special Procedures, including the Special Rapporteur on Burma;
- Ratify and effectively implement core U.N. human rights treaties and their optional protocols and the Rome Statute of the International Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.