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UN Special Envoy: Human Rights Deteriorating in Burma


The United Nations special envoy to Burma says the human rights situation has deteriorated and the country is moving toward a humanitarian crisis. The envoy, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, made the remarks in Thailand at the conclusion of his six-year mission.

The United Nations Special Human Rights Rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro says he can report no improvement in the human rights situation in Burma six years after undertaking his mission.

Pinheiro made the remarks Friday to reporters in Bangkok, noting the military government has barred him from visiting Burma during the past two-and-a-half years. "What I receive from the U.N. agencies, from international NGO's and from academics that are able to visit the country is that the situation has deteriorated," he said. "That is what I say in this report."

Pinheiro said Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi remains in what he called solitary confinement with a cook and a maid, and visits by her doctor are no longer regular. He notes her National League for Democracy, which won national elections in 1990 but was not allowed to govern, has only one office, which is under constant surveillance.

The U.N. envoy said he has also observed a deterioration of the humanitarian situation and the economy, as well as access by Burmese to health and education.

He pointed to the International Red Cross being denied visits to prisons and said medical assistance groups now can travel only when accompanied by a government official. He added that individual freedoms are highly restricted and there are more than 1,000 political prisoners.

The Burmese government has denied similar charges and says it is working toward establishing what it calls a "disciplined democracy" through a seven-point plan called a road map.

But Pinheiro dismissed the effort, saying there has been little progress on the road map and the process of drafting a new constitution appears designed to keep the military in power.

The U.N. special rapporteur praised ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) for beginning to publicly press Burma to change. ASEAN has recently broken with its long-standing policy of not becoming involved in member's domestic affairs.

But Pinheiro said these efforts need to be better coordinated with the international community, whose Western nations maintain sanctions on Burma, also known as Myanmar. "With better articulation, better coordination, perhaps we could achieve more results," he said. "Because the region is tired of the embarrassments that Myanmar is provoking. It's very old fashioned to continue having this kind of regime in the region."

The U.N. special envoy welcomed ASEAN's decision to send a special envoy to Burma, saying that Malaysia's foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, might help break the isolation of the Burmese leadership and convey ASEAN's concern over the situation.