23 October 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Optimistic that he will return to Myanmar before year’s end on his second mission to examine the state of human rights in the troubled South-East Asian nation, the independent United Nations expert on the issue said today that the restoration of democracy will take time in a nation ruled for so many years by a military regime.

“To get a civil Government will take time.  They are not prepared for that.  They are prepared for war,” said Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, at a Headquarters press conference, as he responded to reporters’ questions.  Yet the process to democracy can be helped by tackling the country’s human rights challenges right now, and he urged the international community to speak in one voice as they nudged Myanmar towards a democratic Government and the elections scheduled for 2010.

Appointed to his position in May 2008, Mr. Quintana completed his first mission to the isolated and poor nation in August.  He released his report on the situation of human rights in the Myanmar earlier this month and this morning briefed the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) on the situation (see Press Release GA/SHC/3926).  Mr. Quintana replaced Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, whose mandate ended in April.  The special procedure’s mandate on human rights in Myanmar began in 1992.

He said that the country’s new Constitution had been finalized in February and adopted through a referendum in May in the midst of the damage wrought by Cyclone Nargis.  The next step in the road map for national reconciliation and democratic transition was the 2010 election.

Though encouraged by the September release of seven prisoners of conscience, Mr. Quintana noted that 2,000 other political prisoners remained in institutions around the country.  Those people, who had been imprisoned for expressing themselves, should be participating in the process that would lead to the 2010 elections.

Mr. Quintana, an Argentine lawyer, told correspondents he had proposed four core human rights elements for completion by the Government before the elections. Those included the revision of domestic laws to ensure their compliance with human rights; the progressive release of all prisoners of conscience; reform of the military; and the independence of the judiciary.  He said he was asking the Government to begin reviewing the laws that limited those human rights which the Government now uses to limit people’s expression.

He described his first visit, which had lasted four days, as a difficult one.  “The Government didn’t know me […] it was difficult to go into the prison,” he said.  But the visit had been very important and included three hours of private meeting with detainees.  “The prisoners were very open with me.  It gave me a lot of sense of what was going on in the country,” he said.  The visit had also given him and the various players in the country an opportunity to get to know each other.

He hoped his next visit would be longer and provide access to different regions of the country.  He said he was not feeling any pressure from the Government, but was trying to gain an improvement in human rights.

He said the global attention paid to humanitarian concerns after Cyclone Nargis tore through the country in May did not set back efforts to push for human rights.  The Secretary-General’s visit to Myanmar in May had produced positive results for the country’s humanitarian situation and helped open up the country.  He added that economic, social and political rights were involved in humanitarian situations.  He hoped Government officials would see the democratic process as a positive one for the country and would not want to face continued isolation.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record