|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar
With a nascent national human rights mechanism and freshly stated commitments to freedom and the rule of law, Myanmar stood poised to end its persistent patterns of rights violations and to consolidate democratic gains, said a top human rights expert at a Headquarters press conference today.
“This is a key moment in Myanmar’s history,” said Tomas Ojea Quintana, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Mynamar, adding, that there was a real opportunity to deepen the commitment to democracy. The country had taken a number of steps towards fulfilling its stated intention to transition towards democracy, including by forming a National Human Rights Commission and releasing some of Myanmar’s long-detained “prisoners of conscience”. But it remained to be seen if Myanmar would take tangible steps to further the transition, he warned.
Mr. Quintana briefed correspondents following the presenting his annual report yesterday to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), during which he had focused on developments following Myanmar’s legislative elections of 7 November 2010 and the formation of its new Government in April 2011 (see Press Release GA/SHC/4015).
Referring to his report, Mr. Quintana said the new Myanmar administration, led by President Thein Sein, had set out a number of commitments to reform — including safeguarding human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for the rule of law and an independent judiciary, respect for the role of the media and the protection of social and economic rights, among others. It had also decided to grant release and grant amnesty to a significant number of prisoners, including an estimated 200 “prisoners of conscience”, who had widely been described as political detainees.
He said the Government’s first session had addressed a number of “important and sensitive issues” relevant to the promotion and protection of human rights. Those had included land tenure rights and land confiscation, the registration of associations and trade unions, and discrimination against ethnic minorities, including the predominantly Muslim Rohingya people. The second session, in August 2011, had set up the National Human Rights Commission and other State bodies.
However, despite those strides, the Mr. Quintana noted that certain patterns of “gross and systematic violations of human rights” still existed in Myanmar, and the Government’s expressed commitments had largely not materialized through concrete actions. In drafting his report, he had undertaken several visits to Myanmar and had met with a wide array of Government officials, representatives of ethnic political parties, civil society representatives and even prisoners themselves.
He said he had focused his efforts on four key issues: the functioning of State institutions; the situation of ethnic minorities; the overall human rights situation; and truth, justice and accountability. He had also made a series of recommendations, he said.
“I called on the new Government to intensify its efforts to implement its own human rights commitments and to fulfil its international obligations”, he said, adding that, even after the important establishment of Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission in August, there was still no way to verify that body’s efficiency or independence. Among other challenges addressed in his report were the need to address Myanmar’s longstanding social, economic and development challenges, particularly in conflict-affected and ethnic minority-dominated border areas.
Responding to several requests for further information on his meetings with prisoners of conscience, Mr. Quintana said that he had been granted access to Insein Prison in Yangon in August 2011. He had maintained, as a precondition for the visit, the need for privacy and independence from Government officials. A United Nations interpreter had also been employed for all dialogue with prisoners. Despite the recent release of some prisoners, many — including the leaders of political movements who had been imprisoned for more than two decades — remained incarcerated. “I am pushing the Government to release all remaining political prisoners by the end of the year,” he stressed.
Given the creation of the National Human Rights Commission, another correspondent wondered if the Special Rapporteur would continue to reiterate his previous calls for a commission of inquiry into the patterns of human rights violations in Myanmar. “I keep receiving allegations that [violations] are taking place”, he confirmed, emphasizing that ensuring justice and accountability was a critical way to deter such abuses. However, his calls for a commission of inquiry had been made as just one recommendation among many possible ways for the country to achieve justice, he said; instead, the national human rights body had been created.
In that connection, he again reminded correspondents that it was too early to assess the independence or effectiveness of that mechanism. According to his report to the General Assembly, he had recommended that the Commission fully comply with the Paris Principles and be equipped with the necessary resources, capacity and technical assistance, with support from the international community and particularly the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). He hoped to engage with the Commission and meet with its members, and to present, in his report to the Human Rights Council in March 2012, preliminary assessments as to how the new body could play a role in ensuring justice, accountability and access to truth.
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