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Myanmar: “Serious human rights issues remain despite positive steps by the authorities,” says UN expert

YANGON (25 August 2011) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, urged the Government to intensify its efforts to implement its own commitments and to fulfill its international human rights obligations.

“This is a key moment in Myanmar’s history and there are real opportunities for positive and meaningful developments to improve the human rights situation and bring about a genuine transition to democracy,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said at the end of his five-day mission* to the country. “The new Government has taken a number of steps towards these ends. Yet, many serious human rights issues remain and they need to be addressed.”

Prisoners of conscience
“Of key concern to me and to the international community is the continuing detention of a large number of prisoners of conscience. In my meetings with the Government, I conveyed my firm belief that their release is a central and necessary step towards national reconciliation and would bring more benefit to Myanmar’s efforts towards democracy. I reiterate that call now.”

Torture and ill-treatment
“Another concern is the continuing allegations of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, the use of prisoners as porters for the military, and the transfers of prisoners to prisons in remote areas where they are unable to receive family visits or packages of essential medicine and supplemental food. In Insein prison, I heard disturbing testimonies of prolonged sleep and food deprivation during interrogation, beatings, and the burning of bodily parts, including genital organs. I also heard accounts of prisoners being confined in cells normally used for prison dogs as means of punishment.”

Tensions/armed conflict with ethnic groups
“Tensions in ethnic border areas and armed conflict with some armed ethnic groups engender serious human rights violations, including attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, internal displacement, land confiscations, the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as forced labour and portering. I call on the authorities and all armed groups to ensure the protection of civilians in conflict-affected areas and to accelerate efforts towards finding a political solution to the conflict.”

Deprivation of economic, social and cultural rights
“Concerns regarding the availability and accessibility of education and health care were specifically highlighted (by many interlocutors), as well as the need for the teaching of ethnic minority languages in schools in minority areas – issues I have raised in my previous reports. Other concerns highlighted addressed land and housing rights, particularly with respect to the impact of infrastructure projects, land confiscations by the military and development-induced displacement.”

The legal system
“The capacity, independence and impartiality of the judiciary remain outstanding issues in Myanmar. Various laws and legal provisions that limit fundamental rights and contravene international human rights standards remain in existence. I am encouraged to hear that a process to review and possibly amend or revoke national legislation is underway.”

“Justice and accountability measures, as well as measures to ensure access to the truth, are fundamental for Myanmar to face its past and current human rights challenges, and to move forward towards national reconciliation. I would again encourage the Government to demonstrate its willingness and commitment to address these concerns and to take the necessary measures for investigations of human rights violations to be conducted in an independent, impartial and credible manner, without delay.”

The new Parliament
“I welcome what seems to be an opening of space for different actors and parties to engage in the political process. At the same time, I note the strong need to enhance the capacity and functioning of this new institution and of its members. Also crucial is the need to clarify a number of the Parliament’s internal rules and procedures, including establishing clear rules governing parliamentary immunity.

During his mission, the Special Rapporteur designated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the situation in Myanmar met with Government ministers and various other relevant stakeholders, among them opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Mr. Ojea Quintana also saw the new parliament in session in Naypyitaw, and visited the Insein Prison where he met with prisoners of conscience.

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.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11330&LangID=E

For additional information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/countries/mm/mandate/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

For press inquiries and additional information, please contact Mr. Aye Win, National Information Officer, UNIC (Tel: 0095 1 546 933-4 / Fax: 0095 1 544 531 / email: aye.win@undp.org)

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