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Myanmar: Reforms continue, but key human rights unaddressed

Myanmar: “Reforms continue apace, but key human rights issues remain unaddressed” – UN expert

Bangkok / Geneva, 20 February 2013 – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, commended the progress achieved so far by the reform process in Myanmar, but called on the Government to urgently address a number of human rights issues.

“The reforms in Myanmar are continuing apace, which is a good sign for the improvement of the human rights situation in Myanmar,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said at the end of his seventh mission to the country, which took him to Naypyitaw, Yangon and Kachin and Rakhine States. However, he warned, “there are significant human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed.”

“As time passes it becomes more urgent to address these shortcomings before they become entrenched,” he stressed, acknowledging nonetheless that the existing gaps between the reforms at the top, and the reality and implementation on the ground will take time to close.

The Special Rapporteur restated his call to the authorities and the people of Myanmar to address the issue of truth, justice and accountability through the creation of a truth commission. “What happened during the previous military governments remains untouched. I believe this is crucial for the process of national reconciliation and to prevent future human rights violations by learning from the past,” he noted.

The expert also called on the international community to recognise the significance of the reforms that have taken place, but also urged them to focus on their implementation, especially in the areas of human rights capacity development for police, army, judges and lawyers. He also reminded them of their important role in prioritising human rights when engaging in bilateral relations with Myanmar, including in business and investment relations.

Kachin State
“I have been particularly concerned over the previous months of the escalation of military offensives, which has brought further death, injury and destruction to the civilian population,” Mr. Ojea Quintana noted. “The ongoing large military presence, which remains beyond the reach of accountability mechanisms, means that serious human rights violations are continuing there.”

“The resolution of the conflict will need to address the role played by ethnic minorities in the reconstruction of the nation,” he stressed, while drawing attention to “the importance of involving community based organisations, which are dealing with the consequences of the conflict, to participate in a transparent process of political dialogue and negotiation.”

The expert noted that humanitarian access is still a challenge in Kachin State due to security issues and the harassment of local staff from humanitarian organisations, as well as the steady decrease in donor funding. “I believe that there are administrative and political obstacles that can be overcome to improve access,” he said.

Rakhine State
Mr. Ojea Quintana noted that Rakhine State is going through a profound crisis that threatens to spread to other parts of the country and has the potential to undermine the entire reform process in Myanmar. “Both Muslim and Buddhist Rakhine communities continue to suffer the consequences of violence that the Government has finally been able to control, though question marks remain over the extent to which excessive force has been used,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur expressed concern about the situation of 120,000 people in internally displaced camps, with particular regard to the lack of adequate health care in the larger Muslim camps.

“This is not just a matter of lack of resources, but requires the safe passage of humanitarian assistance to these camps. Currently, local and international medical staff are unable to provide medical care to some of the Muslim camps due to the threats and harassment they face from local Rakhine Buddhist communities,” the expert said. “I urge the local authorities to send a clear message through their networks that this harassment of staff is not acceptable.”

“Feelings of fear, distrust, hatred and anger remain high between communities. To address this requires education, responsible local journalism, as well as mutually respectful dialogue between community leaders. Time does not heal wounds unless measures are taken to repair relations,” he said. “The facts of what has happened need to be established and those responsible for human rights violations held to account, which I hope the Investigation Committee established by the President will help to do in its upcoming report which should be made public.”

During his five-day visit, Mr. Ojea Quintana met with Government officials, members of Parliament and the judiciary in Naypyitaw. In Yangon he held meetings with the National Human Rights Commission, civil society and former prisoners of conscience, among other stakeholders. He also met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and discussed a broad range of human rights issues.

In Rakhine State, Mr. Ojea Quintana visited Muslim and Buddhist IDP camps in Sittwe, Myaybon and Pauk Taw, and the Sittwe Prison. In Kachin State, he visited IDP camps in Myitkyina and Waingmaw and the Myitkyina Prison.

The Special Rapporteur will present a full report on the visit to the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council on 11 March 2013.

Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana (Argentina) was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2008. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to:http://www2.ohchr.org/english/countries/mm/mandate/index.htm

See the latest progress report on Myanmar by the Special Rapporteur: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N12/520/48/PDF/N1252048.pdf?OpenElement

UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

ENDS

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