Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Myanmar: UN expert calls on Myanmar to take ‘active approach’ to protect human rights

12 March 2012 – An independent United Nations expert urged the Government of Myanmar to take an “active approach” to protect human rights in the country and commit to implementing reforms to ensure lasting peace and reconciliation.

Presenting his report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Tomas Ojea Quintana said he welcomed positive steps by the Government to adopt policies to protect the rights of its citizens, but warned that there are “serious human rights concerns that remain to be addressed,” regarding legislative policies, prisoner releases, and poverty and development, as well as ethnic groups.

Mr. Ojea Quintana, who is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, has consistently called for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience. He told the Council that while he welcomed the four amnesties that have been granted by the new Government, he was disturbed about discrepancies in the numbers of remaining prisoners, and urged that a “comprehensive and thorough investigation be undertaken to clarify records and determine accurate numbers.”

In his remarks, the Special Rapporteur also focused on poverty and security in the country, and emphasized that it is essential to ensure that development and economic growth are not concentrated in a few areas but includes all of society, including ethnic border areas.

In addition, he stated that an increase in privatization initiatives should be accompanied by appropriate measures to protect land owners, the environment, and any other sectors that may be negatively affected by the activities of private enterprises.

Mr. Ojea Quintana also called on the Government to develop a plan to “officially engage with ethnic minority groups in serious dialogue and to resolve long-standing and deep-rooted concerns,” calling it an essential step for national reconciliation and for Myanmar’s long-term political and social stability.

The upcoming by-election on 1 April, Mr. Ojea Quintana underlined, will be “a key test” of how far the Government has progressed in its process of reform, adding that it is essential that they are free, fair, inclusive and transparent.

The Special Rapporteur stated that the international community also has the responsibility to support the people of Myanmar in the reform process, and urged Government authorities to seek the guidance of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and other international bodies.