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Human Rights Abuses In Myanmar Not Being Addressed

UN Expert Says Human Rights Abuses In Myanmar Not Being Addressed

Widespread and systematic human rights violations, grave abuses against ethnic communities, and lack of freedom of assembly and association are still the norm in Myanmar, but the international community has not responded with the appropriate creative diplomacy, and the outlook for change is grim, a United Nations expert said today in New York.

"I don't think isolation will contribute much to move Myanmar ahead," the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro said, expressing extreme frustration with the international community for its use of "megaphone diplomacy," its lack of inter-state cooperation, and its erratic approach in dealing with Myanmar.

Addressing the General Assembly's Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee on Thursday, he noted that despite receiving numerous reports on rights violations in Myanmar, neither he nor the Secretary-General's Special Envoy have been invited to visit the country since November 2003, and that he had become frustrated with his task.

Based on the information he was able to cull, he recited a litany of serious human rights abuses and violations in his report, including the lack of freedom of assembly and of the press, the jailing of more than 1,100 people including poets, journalists, monks, students and teachers, the well known case of Nobel Prize Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's prolonged house detention, and numerous other detentions of opposition politicians for years at a time.

He also said the Government's plan for democracy "has no time frame and no scale" while deploring abuses against ethnic groups, the prevalence of forced labour of men, women, children and elderly, and forced relocations of entire villages.

>From the end of 2002 to October 2004 he estimated that 157,000 people were displaced by armed conflict, and 240 villages destroyed or relocated. Between 700,000 and a million people have fled Myanmar to nearby Thailand, and others have fled to India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and other countries to escape human rights violations, he added.

"[There are] widespread and systematic violations of human rights in Myanmar and the consistent failure of the Government to protect the citizens prevails in the country," he said. Law, order and justice has been "employed as an implement of repression and to silence dissent," he said, instead of upholding the rights of the citizens.

Structural problems persist as well, he said. The economy is spiralling downward, drug tracking is a pressing problem, and HIV/AIDS infections are increasing at a rapid rate.

But the international community's use of sanctions against Myanmar without establishing an effective dialogue is "regrettable," and "wrong" he told the press conference today. The decision of the Global Fund on AIDS, TB and Malaria to leave the country and other sanctions have the effect of depriving support to those who need it, but have had no effect whatsoever on the Government, he added.

Mr. Pinheiro also said that his annual reports on human rights abuses had become a "ritual mantra without any consequences," because he was not given the proper support from the Human Rights Commission. Special Rapporteurs are unpaid experts serving in an independent personal capacity who receive their mandate from that Commission and report back to it.

The new Human Rights Council will need to give more effective support, and the Government States must be held accountable, he said.

Attributing his frankness to the fact that he will be stepping down from his position as Special Rapporteur in April 2006, he said when he began his role four years ago, he approached the job with "cautious optimism," but given his experience today he now feels like a "a frustrated skepticist."

"I believe we must not give up," he said, "but [right now] there is no solution in the case of Myanmar."

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