Print options

February 18, 2013

Rights Groups Back UN Envoy’s Warnings on Burma

by Ron Corben

Human rights groups and analysts say the international community needs to pay attention to warnings from the United Nations rights envoy about on-going abuses in Burma.

U.N. rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana ended his five-day visit to Burma by acknowledging that while the country is heading in the right direction, urgent action is needed to address on-going human rights abuses.
 
Quintana met former political prisoners and those still in detention in Insein prison in Rangoon, held talks with senior government members and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
 
He also visited western Rakhine State where 120,000 people remain displaced after sectarian violence last year between Muslim and Buddhist communities killed scores of people. Quintana said that although conditions in Muslim camps had improved, there is still inadequate health care.
 
Debbie Stothard, spokesperson for rights group, Alternative ASEAN Network, says Quintana’s preliminary report notes a lack of progress in addressing human rights as well as long standing issues of impunity by the armed forces.
 
“It’s clear from Mr. Quintana’s visit that critical human rights problem have not yet been addressed in Burma, and that there is still a long way to go," Stothard said. "We hope that his visit is seen as a sobering wakeup call to the rest of the international community who have been far too optimistic about Burma’s reforms.”
 
Quintana also travelled to Kachin state, the center of recent heavy fighting between Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Burmese troops. He said he was encouraged by developments with cease-fire talks. But he raised concerns reports that the Burmese military is carrying out arbitrary arrests and torture of Kachin men suspected of being rebel fighters.
 
He called on Burma’s military and non-state armed groups to comply with international human rights and humanitarian law.
 
Benjamin Zawacki, a representative in South East Asia for the International Commission of Jurists, said while Quintana’s access to Rakhine and Kachin states was positive, the Burmese government needs to address the broader problems he raised.

“The fact that he’s been able to get access and from his position as a U.N. representative clearly articulate those is important because what he’s saying essentially runs counter to the prevailing narrative coming out of the country which is that everything is changing and of course changing for the better when in fact the situation in those two ethnic areas is in fact changing, but it’s actually getting worse,” said Zawacki.
 
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, said the only area of progress in Burma had been access to prisons by the International Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies.  
 
Robertson says Burmese authorities are pushing to weaken the mandate of the U.N. special reporter on the situation of human rights in Burma. But he says that authorities have not done enough to convince other key U.N. members that it is time to abandon the U.N. envoy’s oversight.
 
“What is now coming into clear focus is they haven’t done near enough for the international community whether that be the EU [European Union] or North American countries or Japan to consider that kind of step [to ease pressure]," said Robertson.
 
Next month Quintana is expected to submit his full report on the rights situation in Burma to the United Nations.