Press Conference on Forthcoming Elections in Myanmar

21 October 2010

Press Conference on Forthcoming Elections in Myanmar

21 October 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Forthcoming Elections in Myanmar


The process leading to elections in Myanmar, planned for 7 November, could not be called inclusive or independent, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the South-East Asian country said at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

“It is clear that the process is flawed,” said Tomás Ojea Quintana, following his presentation of his report yesterday to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) and an interactive dialogue on the forthcoming landmark elections, during which he welcomed the active involvement of 22 delegations.  (See Press Release GA/SHC/3984)

Because of the non-inclusive framework, it appeared that the elections themselves would neither be free nor fair, Mr. Quintana told correspondents, although he said he could not predict what would happen in the next few weeks.

What was clear was that key stakeholders were not being heard, minorities were not being encouraged to participate, registration of candidates was expensive, domestic media was restricted, foreign media was banned and the Government was campaigning in a way that discouraged opposition, he said, adding that there had been no improvement since his August report.  No prisoners of conscience had been released.

He called for a genuine dialogue among all stakeholders in the country.  For that purpose, and to send a signal that the Government was serious about holding genuine elections, he called on the Government to release all prisoners of conscience, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), who has been under house arrest for much of the past two decades.

Also critical for the democratic transition, which he stressed did not end with the elections, were justice and accountability.  He said those factors were the keys to national reconciliation in all post-conflict situations, and it was the responsibility of the Government to address them.

If the Government failed in that responsibility, the international community had the right to become involved, he maintained.  It was for that reason, he explained, he had called for a commission of inquiry on possible crimes against humanity in the country, which had stirred up controversy.  Such a commission, he emphasized, should not be seen as a way to punish the Government but to prevent impunity and help prevent further abuses.

Asked by several correspondents what kind of pressure the Government might respond to, he said he was working for consensus and a coordinated strategy between United Nations officials and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to ensure genuine elections as well as justice and accountability.

It was particularly important for the United Nations to have a unified message, he said.  To that end, he had met with the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on

Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, as well as the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Navi Pillay; both of whom, he said, were receptive.  In addition, he called for the United Nations system to pay close attention before, during and after the elections.

He affirmed that the representative of the United States, in yesterday’s interactive dialogue, expressed support for a commission of inquiry.  Mr. Quintana would not, however, say plainly that there were crimes against humanity committed because such a conclusion required legal standards and specific facts.  “That’s why I’m saying to the international community, if the possibility of this exists then you need to take action.”

He said the General Assembly might call, in a resolution, for the provision of assistance in establishing a commission of inquiry.  He noted that the Government had replied in discussions about transitional justice that it had mechanisms on the ground to receive complaints of human rights violations.

A commission, he said, could help such mechanisms to become more reliable.  Up to now, he had envisioned the commission as a fact-finding body, but the inquiry panel on Sri Lanka could be a model.  It was important to involve the Government at this point in its formation, if possible.

Asked if he had had contact with Ms. Suu Kyi, he said that during his visit to Myanmar in February 2010, he had requested a meeting but the Government did not accept his request, and so the information he had on her was the same that everyone else had.  His position remained that she was a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately.

There was certainly, he said, no commitment from the Government that she would be released the day her sentence seemed to end, on 13 November — a week after the planned elections — and no confirmation if that was really the end date of her sentence.  A substantive decision could not be expected from the courts, which, in his experience, had little independence.

He said that in general, he received a good amount of cooperation from the Government during his visit.  He was able to visit many parts of the country as well as conduct private interviews with prisoners of conscience.  He had expressed appreciation for such cooperation, but made it clear that it was not enough — there had to be improvement in human rights.

In response to other questions, Mr. Quintana said he could not interpret the meaning of the new flag and national anthem.  It would not change his assessment of the elections and the general rights situation, but it might be good that the military regime that had been in place for more than four decades was changing.

He said the Muslim minority should also be involved in the process of justice and accountability.  He would not predict any sort of violence during the elections, including the border areas, reiterating that it was important for the international community to pay close attention.

Finally, he noted that he had previously put forward his opinion, based on consultations with the Special Rapporteur for Business and Human Rights, that any company doing business in Myanmar should be made aware that human rights were being compromised there and that they might consider their personal responsibility.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.