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UN Special Rapporteurs:  Human Rights in Burma, North Korea Lagging


The independent U.N. expert on human rights in Burma is urging the military government to improve basic human rights in that country before elections scheduled for 2010. Tomás Ojea Quintana is also pressing for the progressive release of the more than 2,000 prisoners of conscience in Burmese jails. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Recently back from his first mission to Burma as the Special Rapporteur on human rights, Tomás Ojea Quintana, proposed four main human rights elements for the government to complete before elections in 2010.

"The revision of domestic laws to ensure compliance with international human rights; the progressive release of all prisoners of conscience; human rights training for and reform of the military; and the independence of the judiciary to ensure the rule of law," he said.

Quintana welcomed the release of some 9,000 prisoners in September. But he said he believes only seven of them were prisoners of conscience. Quintana said there are more than 2,000 such prisoners in Burmese jails and he called for them to be released gradually.

The most famous is National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest. Quintana did not meet her during his four-day visit to Burma in August, and he said he is not optimistic she will be released soon.

"I would say that I do not have a lot of expectations of her release currently," he said. "I am trying to find strategies to make the government understand she is under arbitrary arrest."

Meanwhile, the Special Rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, Vitit Muntarbhorn, expressed his concern about the situation in that country, saying there are reports of public executions, a non-independent judiciary, torture and other human rights abuses.

"We are dealing with a non-open, non-democratic system, extremely closed and repressive in its kind," he said. "All the consequences ensue from that, in terms of clamp down on freedom of expression, clamp down on freedom of religion, clamp down on freedom of association and clamp down on communications - people are not allowed to have cell phones or televisions without permission."

But he did note that North Korea, which has suffered from severe food shortages for years, has been cooperative in working with the World Food Program, which has helped provide rations to more than six million people.

Vitit Muntarbhorn, who has held his mandate as Special Rapporteur for more than four years, has been allowed by North Korean authorities to enter the country only once, despite his repeated requests to return.

Special Rapporteurs are independent of any government and serve in their individual capacity, and are appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

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