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October 19, 11

NEWS / Myanmars new Government must tackle continuing rights abuses

19 October 2011 –
Despite positive actions by Myanmar’s new Government, such as easing media restrictions and proposed bills on political parties and demonstrations, many serious human rights issues remain, a United Nations expert said today, calling for the speedy release of all political prisoners.

“A pattern of gross and systematic violations of human rights has existed in Myanmar for many years,” UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, told the General Assembly’s third committee in presenting his latest report on the South-East Asian country, where a newly-convened Parliament elected a new President earlier this year.

“I continue to receive allegations of such violations to date. Measures to ensure justice and accountability, including access to the truth, are essential for Myanmar to face its past and current human rights challenges and to move forward towards national reconciliation.”

While welcoming the release of some 200 prisoners of conscience last week and noting that future amnesties are anticipated, he said the continued detention of a large number of prisoners of conscience is of key concern.

“It is imperative that the Government completes the liberation of all such prisoners without delay,” he stressed, echoing the points made in his report.

He cited continuing allegations of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, use of prisoners as military porters or ‘human shields’, and the transfer of prisoners to prisons in remote areas where they are unable to receive family visits or packages of essential medicine sand foods.

“The Government of Myanmar should take immediate measures to improve the conditions of detention and the treatment of prisoners,” he said.

Mr. Quintana welcomed the fact that the new national legislature has discussed important and sensitive issues relevant to human rights, but underscored the crucial need to clarify its rules, including those on parliamentary immunity to ensure that members can exercise freedom of speech while discharging their duties.

“Also, I believe that the judiciary is neither independent nor impartial… I am concerned by reports that criminal cases are still being heard behind closed doors and that lawyers defending prisoners of conscience have had their licenses arbitrarily revoked,” he said, urging the Government to reconsider the revocations, guarantee the effective right to counsel and allow lawyers to practice their profession freely.

“The ongoing tensions in ethnic border areas and conflict with some armed ethnic groups continue to engender serious human rights violations, including attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, internal displacement, land confiscations, the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as forced labour and portering,” he added.

Welcoming President Thein Sein’s commitment to keep the door open to peace and to invite armed groups to peace talks, he called for greater efforts to find a durable political resolution to the complex undertaking of forging a stable multi-ethnic nation.

On the positive side, Mr. Quintana said he was encouraged by the Government’s commitment to reform and the priorities set out by President Thein Sein, including the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms, respect for the rule of law and an independent and transparent judiciary.

He cited the signing into law of a bill allowing the formation of unions and the right to strike, and a bill still before Parliament which would allow political parties previously excluded, such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), to formally register.

Noting the recent easing of restrictions on the media and the Internet, including the lifting of bans on foreign news websites, and a draft bill on peaceful gatherings and demonstrations, he called for the removal of provisions restricting demonstrations to designated places and the inclusion of others to prohibit the excessive use of force to break up rallies deemed illegal.

“Myanmar’s new Government faces a wide range of daunting challenges: from the urgent need to improve the socio-economic situation to ending armed conflict and ensuring the protection of civilians, from building democratic institutions to ensuring lasting peace through national reconciliation,” he concluded.

“These challenges will require continued commitment, resources and far-reaching reforms. The people of Myanmar have waited many years for this transition. They deserve the support and continued engagement of the international community in ensuring that a real transition takes root.”




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